Protect us from Perfection

by Barbara Martin

in How to Tips

The devil’s propensity for details pokes specifically at perfectionists. The details of any project are the perfectionist’s easy target. Let’s dot each i and cross each t and for heaven’s sake let’s make sure the apostrophes line up just so. Can you relate to this vision of hell?

I’ve written about perfection before, and recently my friend and recovering perfectionist Fabeku wrote about it in painful glowing detail, it’s all so true. How does this happen to us?

Check this out: Sit a perfectionist who writes (that would be me for sure, maybe also you?)  in the middle of whirling punctuation marks applied in random and reckless abandon by a semi-literate second grader turned loose at the keyboard. Whoa boy! That’s some real fun, let me tell you. Not the least of which is because it makes me begin to wonder about my own punctuation proficiency. 

Punctuation proficiency, is that a valid phrase?  Let’s fiddle with word choice. Turn me (maybe also you?) loose in the dictionary and thesaurus, the endless land of choices. Infinite word choices where I may revel in the impurity of ambiguity. Here, there is no right or wrong answer, but rather, a delight of distraction and madness. Delight? Who are we kidding?

And the title. A blog post title calls for precision, finality.  SEO considerations aside, there is no true guidance. This post, for instance might be:

Woe to the perfectionist writer
Woes of the perfectionist writer
Woe to the perfectionist who writes
Writer’s woe: perfection
Writers’ perfect woes
Perfectionist’s woe: writing
and so on, if we keep to just this one phrase with variations.

Perfection spins so many possibilities and discarded options awhirl in the brain. It might be a relief to impose a Twitter inspired 140 character limit. Limits of any kind delineate parameters. The rule of conformity limits our self-torture to what might be finessed given the constraints…. 

A time limit is another helpful constraint, in that when time is up, the thing is done.

How else can we help ourselves? Understand that to err is human? But we are not everybody else! We want to do it right, or not at all! If it’s worth doing, it must be done right. And if I tweak this here and here and there and there it will be (almost) perfect!

Doesn’t effort count? Doesn’t the thought count? Doesn’t close-enough count? What is the difference between perception of  a 98% performance and a 100% performance? That nth degree of perfect. Is it genius? Is it not enough to do the best you can and put it out there?

How good is the best you can do? Is it ever good enough?

Of course it is good enough! You are the one who decides when it is good enough and you do too know when you have reached that place of diminishing returns, where the unattainable state of perfection is purely in the eye of the beholder (that would be you!) — and beyond credulity.

When you feel your perfectionism gearing up to keep you from considering something done, or preventing you from even starting, or forcing you to polish and polish and polish and buff, buff, buff yourself into oblivion, stop. Stop and think about why you believe the end goal is so elusive.

Who are you really trying to please with this perfection?  And who has the say, honestly, as to what standard is good enough? And what really happens if you mess up?

What is the real price of perfection? Who are you trying to protect by seeking perfection? 

Am I a useless, stupid idiot and incompetent human being and horrible writer because there is an error in this post? Will you hate me forever because it’s not freakin’ perfect?

I didn’t think so! Geezlouise I sure hope not! (What kind of monster are you?!)

SO WHY WOULD YOU HATE yourself for something like that?  Let’s stop the bleeding.


char brooks December 20, 2009 at 2:25 pm

I really love this post!!!!!

Great question when you ask what we are protecting ourselves from when we get perfectionistic – or maybe I got that question wrong but I like it anyway.

I agree – let’s stop the bleeding and accept ourselves and each other as the imperfect and human people that we are.

Thanks for helping me think through my perfectionistic tendencies – and let them fall like rain into the vast ocean of humanity – along with everyone else.

Barbara Martin December 20, 2009 at 10:40 pm

Hi Char, You got it right. :)

It’s nutty how we will try to protect ourselves in some convoluted way by wanting things to be so perfect, and yet by doing that we paralyze ourselves into inaction or lock ourselves into a holding pattern and consequently things fall apart. gahhhhhh

Such a vivid picture that ocean of humanity.

Thanks for commenting.

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