Recovering Perfectionist

by | Dec 14, 2018 | Ground Work | 16 comments

This post is related to the last one I wrote, more than two months ago now. It was about procrastination. Sure, I’ve been busy. Who isn’t? It went something like this: Finding the Words? I’ll Look for Them Later…. And that was about it.

If I go looking for the perfect words, then I might as well put it off. Indefinitely. I’ll never find them. I will also never be in perfect shape. Kagán is not a perfectly shiny boat. I do not have a tidily perfect library to write in. Most days, I don’t even come close to crossing everything off my list of things to do, which in a perfect world I would. Every day.

Perfection is unattainable. Pursuing it, I’ll fail every time. Procrastination is a reasonable response to seeking it; why push for ultimate failure? The problem is that not only do things not get done perfectly, they don’t get done at all. I know all this intellectually. But clearing the hurdle I set up for myself, in order to pursue excellence rather than perfection, well, that’s another matter.

I’ve been this way as long as I can remember being any way at all. I was the goodie-two-shoes of my family from the time I stepped into my first pair of shoes. And I wore out pair after pair chasing perfection; as a kid, to please my parents, which I did (so I was amply rewarded for the chase). And as an adult, to please myself. Except I’m never pleased enough. And this chase is awfully tiring.

When I reflect on this in a deep way, I must admit that the perfectionist part of me thinks completely unreasonable things. Like I could have kept my sweet old dog, Sandy, from dying last month if I’d been a better dog mom. Even though Sandy lived well over 15 years, overcoming laryngeal paralysis, thriving because of how well cared for and loved he was. He was happily, if wobbily, walking in the desert with me just days before his system shut down and he passed peacefully at home. Can I really think that wasn’t good enough? Can I not simply be grateful for how long and healthy and happy his life was?

Here’s one that’s even harder to admit, front and center in my heart, mind, and memory these days. Twenty-one years ago yesterday, my late husband’s plane, with his body beside it, was found in the Texas hill country after a month-long search. For years, I struggled, not only with the depth of my loss, but with a belief that if I’d somehow been a better wife that he would not have died in that accident.
.Norman and his plane

Not only do those thoughts not make sense (the convoluted logic being if I was perfect, I’d be completely in control, not only of myself, but of others and every situation), frankly, they’re absurd, and incredibly egotistical.

So, I continue to steer myself away from the dead-end path of perfectionism. My step for today – to post this essay, though it is far from perfect (for one thing, there are way too many adverbs in it). But maybe, just maybe, letting go of trying to be in control of it all, whether it’s the right word choice or comma placement, or letting those I love live, and die, as they must, will be exactly what I need to live into and learn from today. And every day.

What are your hardest lessons?

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  1. Yvette Jordan

    Deb, I love the perfectionist in you. Since we were children, I’ve witnessed you loving life and striving to live each moment to the fullest with excellence. Please don’t cast aspersions on yourself for doing that because we should all soak up life as you do each day….much love.

    • Deborah Green

      You said it so well – striving to live each moment to the fullest with excellence. I’m fine with having high standards, and hope I always will maintain that point of view, but more and more, impossible standards seem paralyzing to me. These days, I’d much rather move and dance (metaphorically, but maybe literally wouldn’t hurt either), than be struck motionless by the impossibility of perfection – yet another thing to strive for, but an intention that feels positive to me. Yikes, sounds like I’m preaching to myself here.

  2. judi

    As always you manage to put into words the hard things we all struggle with! My hardest lesson…being present for others when it is far easier to retreat to my singular ” bubble”.

    • Deborah Green

      So glad you push through your discomfort to let me hang out with you, within and without of that bubble. Years ago a friend gave me a card with the phrase Everything You Ever Wanted is One Step Outside Your Comfort Zone and I’ve never forgotten it. It rings true for me.

  3. Julia T.

    Well said! I’ve always appreciated your drive and think the world needs more people with drive. If you’ve been procrastinating, it doesn’t show. I could use a little more perfectionism but I fall a little too far on the “get er done” side of the scale without seeking enough input and recognition of other perspectives.

    • Deborah Green

      I have admired and appreciated and depended on your “get er done” side over the years! It’s all a sliding scale, I think. Maybe it depends on what the matter is where the best place to land on that scale is?

  4. Jane Gill-Shaler

    Deb, I always enjoy your thoughtful posts. You allow your reader to struggle with meaning, along with you. My dear nephew and friend, Jay, passed away December 11 from a heart attack. He was young, at 46, and I’m still struggling for meaning from his early death. Spend time with your loved ones, says my inner voice. Let all anger and desire for control pass into the fog of forgetfulness, and keep in sharp focus the color and kindness of your friendships.

    • Deborah Green

      I am so sorry for your loss. Even when we can find a way to make meaning for ourselves, the loss still hurts so much. My heart goes out to you and your family.

  5. Vic

    Great read Deb. Makes one rethink about trying to obtain the unobtainable. Lots of love and greetings from the G-Dock crew.

  6. Margie Cusumano

    I think the people that care the most and expect the most from themselves are often their own worst critic. I often thought if I was thinner, smarter, prettier, another words perfect, I would have the world by a string. Is took me a while, and I still have to remind myself from time to time, that I do have that world on a string. I am truly blessed. I have raised two responsible, loving children that have grown to be responsible, loving, hardworking parents and spouses. I hope I am making my world a better one through my students. At the end of the day, I am getting better at believing I am enough. Great read Deb and it looks to me you have been given many gifts, we just don’t always know what those gifts are until long after they have arrived.

  7. Joe

    Try to keep it simple Deb, Joe Caribbee Beach Gardens.

  8. Sharon Galkin

    Harder than recognizing that I’m not in control is remembering that Someone is; believing that nothing is random, that there is a bigger picture (that we may never see) and a place where everything makes “perfect” sense and all our efforts and good intentions are rewarded…

  9. Scott Burns

    We all have that perfectionist in us and we strive for it. But, when we do not achieve it, that is the key – what do we do with the conclusions then!

  10. Pat Marsello

    Glad to see you writing again. Makes me think of a phrase I heard years ago and think about often. Life is not about being perfect, it is about accepting every perfect moment. Look forward to catching up with you soon.

  11. Anna

    Perfectionism is a hard thing to recover from. I manage mine by thinking about getting to the 80% mark first, then if I have time I go to 90-95%. But usually, especially in house cleaning, baking, etc., I find that 80% is good enough for everyone to still have fun.
    Keep up the great work!

  12. erik shumate

    This was left on the shop door by as yet unknown

    ” One cannot attain the limit of craftmanship,
    and there is no craftman who aquires his total mastery ”

    Ptahhotep . C. 2350 B.C.E.


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Geologists study the earth and the processes that shape it. Writers study the human heart and the processes that shape it. The GeologistWriter builds a bridge between the two. Come across it with me!

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