Petra Kanter-Cronin, a wonderful and amazing friend of mine, has started her own blog despite her fears. Her most recent post about perfection struck a chord with me, and I wanted to share it with everyone else as well. Enjoy! And check out the rest of her blog at http://bitch-cake.com/
Free from defect.
Something that cannot be improved upon.
Having all essential characteristics, elements, or qualities.
Not deficient in any way.
Gosh, that word “perfection” is so entirely useless. There is almost nothing in this world that is “perfect”. And yet that word has become so ingrained in my mind, so a part of me, my default way of thinking, a standard to be achieved when nothing short of it would be acceptable.
My perfectionism doesn’t start with my final semester at college but that’s what I’m going to talk about, and I hope after you read this story you’ll understand why.
Ever since middle school I’ve struggled with low self-esteem. During High School and my early years at college everything was becoming increasingly worse. My second year in college not only was my personal life affected but my studies too. I don’t like to say I didn’t care about the grades because I did, I just didn’t have enough energy to put my absolute all into it. You see I was holding this impossible standard for myself– perfection, that when I couldn’t achieve it I just thought it was easier to not try at all. As I see this on the page and process the words it all seems so backwards, counterintuitive. So when I didn’t try I was still letting myself down but really, any way I looked at it I would have let myself down. Even if I hadn’t gotten an A+ there still would have been things wrong with it, whether it was a paper I had written or a small assignment I had worked on. Nothing is ever finished. Everything can always be better.
In my last semester at college this perfectionism became crippling. The realization came when I was assigned a paper for my English class. I did so much work analyzing a poem by John Keats, making countless tedious notes and charts. The real problem came when I thought about writing the paper. So I went to my TA for help. I was having a particularly stressful week and when I walked into his office I wasn’t expecting to leave relieved. I sat waiting for a fellow classmate to finish with their conference, then I took the seat across from him and explained my dilemma. I told him the poem that I was intending to write about and showed him all the work I had done.
I said something like “The problem is when I sit down to write a paper I can’t just write it and then go back and edit. I have to make sure the introduction is spot on before I move onto the next paragraph.” I confessed that I have a tendency to psych myself out with papers.
“I can see that” was his response.
He took the outline I had prepared and was giving me some advice. To my embarrassment, and surprise, tears were rolling down my cheeks.
“Are you okay?”
Let me just take a second to talk about those three words and how much I hate them. In my opinion they are the worst words you can say to a person when they’re upset as when spoken they almost always lead to massive amounts of crying. Let’s abolish that sentence. Never, ever, ever use it. Please.
I broke down and confessed that I felt like I was in over my head. I have such high standards for myself and when I’m not able to achieve them I get depressed and I want to punish myself for not living up to those expectations.
I know what you may be thinking “But they’re your expectations! You can change them if you want!”
And I say “Oh Lord do I know. I’ve had this argument with myself before, but it’s not as simple as it sounds.”
No it’s not that simple. It takes incredible amounts of training to tell yourself “you’re doing the best you can, perfection is not achievable”… but more on that later.
Back to the story– I’m in my TA’s office, crying like an idiot… and that’s where we left off right?
I told him that I want the paper to be perfect. Then he told me something that I won’t ever forget, a phrase that became my mantra and that one day I’ll have tattooed on my forearm: Perfect is the enemy of the good.
Why haven’t I heard this before? Perfect is the enemy of the good? Light bulb moment– if I’m so worried about being perfect nothing will ever be created. I can’t produce anything if I’m always expecting perfection.
For so long I thought my high standards were a good thing— a way to keep me going and to prevent myself from half-assing things. Who would have thought it would do the exact opposite?
I still struggle with the idea that I can’t be perfect. Sometimes I sincerely hate being human because it means that mistakes are unavoidable.
Mistakes are the worst!
Wait, no they’re not.
Oh but they are!
My god I’m so contrary!
Of course in the words of Lady Grantham “I’m a woman, I can be as contrary as I choose”
Oh I’m digressing again aren’t I?
What was I talking about?
Oh! Mistakes. Learning from mistakes. Right.
There would be absolutely no way to learn if we were always perfect and learning is one of the best joys in life.
Instead of being down on myself (or yourself if you find you agree with any of what I’ve been saying) I (or you) have to remember that nobody is perfect, no one could ever be perfect, but it’s okay because that is really the best part of being human. Rather than scolding ourselves for our mistakes let’s celebrate them. We are human, we are imperfect, and that is just perfect.
(One last thing, sort of my “p.s.” to you, dear reader. I re-wrote that last line a few times before I had to slap my own hand and say “it’s good”)