The Ugly, Ugly Face of Perfectionism

We all have our struggles. One of my biggest struggles is with perfectionism. I used to be proud of being a perfectionist. If you want something done well, I’m your girl. I have pulled many an all-nighter to produce a killer paper or a costume or some special food. Over the last few years however, I have become increasingly aware that perfectionism is a crippling handicap.

Perfectionism means that I don’t have people over as often as I like because my house is so, uh, cluttered. Perfectionism means that some things that should get done do not get done because I don’t have time to do them the way I believe they should be done.

I thought that I was making some headway in my fight against perfectionism. My method, as you know, has been playing my autoharp in church every week. There is absolutely no way that I can live my life and still somehow learn two new songs every week and learn them well enough to play them flawlessly. I’ve been forcing myself to just keep at it, because we need an accompanist and because I need to learn to do what needs to be done even if I can’t do it perfectly.

But. . . . I had a severe backsliding experience the past couple of weeks. I had committed myself to doing a project that was a gift for someone I dearly love. This project has literally been a year in the making. It took months to find the right materials. Weeks to make various components. I had a general design in mind. So, it was time to start putting it all together.

That was when everything started going wrong. Everything. Stuff that was basted in place still came out crooked. Stuff that was pinned to within an inch of its life still ended up puckered. The harder I tried to make something exquisite, the uglier it became. Every step of the project took three or four times as long as I had estimated, and still nothing seemed to be turning out the way I wanted. I wept and redid several things, but nothing seemed to help.

I had set today as the deadline–the day by which I absolutely had to finish and get the thing in the mail. I had also committed to going to a homeschool Christmas party today. I took my project to the party and grimly continued to work on it. I hated everything about it. I felt like a complete and total failure. There were so many things wrong with it. I had to leave the party early so I could sew on the very last thing at home–only to find that it was missing due to circumstances beyond my control. Eventually it was found, the project was finished, I packed it up, and made it to the post office before closing time.

I didn’t feel particularly relieved after mailing it because I was so upset about the way it turned out. There just isn’t any more time left to redo anything. The recipient will now know that even when I try really, really hard I still sometimes fail. I hate to fail. There were tears. Quite a lot of tears.

I had to face an ugly fact. How do you spell “perfectionism?” P-R-I-D-E. That’s the root of it, isn’t it? Why do I hate to make mistakes, even if they’re unavoidable? Because I’m proud of being the one who always delivers a quality product, whether it’s a meal or a garment or an essay. Pride, that kind of pride, is a sin, and I so hate to admit that I’m guilty of it.

I wish I could say that acknowledging my pride for what it is helped me feel better about the whole experience, but it didn’t. It did make me think that maybe I need to be a lot more realistic about what I can realistically hope to accomplish, and accept the fact that sometimes I will make mistakes and other people are unlikely to judge me as harshly as I judge myself.

In other news, Lina got her car window replaced today, and I made my annual triple batch of corn pudding for my husband to share at his work Christmas potluck. Also, the holiday cleaning contracts started tonight. Tomorrow: so much to do! I still have some sewing and knitting projects to finish.

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