The Trap of Perfectionism

If you wait for the perfect map before departing on your journey, you’ll never have to leave. ~ Seth Godin

ICountry Road On Cloudy Day can’t tell you the number of times I’ve torn up a letter I wrote because my handwriting was crooked. Or how often I’ve scraped the elements off a scrapbook page and started over because something wasn’t quite right. I drove my publisher crazy by proofing the manuscript for This New Mountain over and over and over, making little “necessary” changes every time. Thankfully, they made the decision to cut me off and declare the book ready for the world. If they hadn’t done that, I would probably still be tweaking the thing.

I recently came across a blog post on another site that points out being a perfectionist means: 1) little tasks take a lot longer; 2) you have a compulsion to dot the i’s and cross the t’s; 3) you’re never happy with what you produce; 4) you are hypersensitive to criticism; 5) hitting “publish” on a blog post causes anxiety and doubt; and 6) procrastination rules. I agree with all of these points. I also know my perfectionism doesn’t extend beyond myself (see my post about imperfection) because I can leave a friend’s bathroom and not feel compelled to turn the toilet paper roll around the correct way. You know, so it unrolls over and not under.

In the past few years – and especially since my near-fatal publishing incident – I’ve been working hard not to be such a perfectionist. I’ve had to do some serious talking to myself. (Do people really care that my hand-written cards and letters are crooked?) I’ve had to step out and just do it, whatever “it” is.

Like taking on the editing responsibilities for SouthWest Sage (my writing organization’s newsletter ) – a perfectionist’s nightmare, making sure every page is filled up and laid out exactly right. But monthly deadlines have helped me get things done and learn to let go.

And then there’s the matter of all the photo albums I need to finish. Knowing my children would really like to have their baby albums in hand before they die (they’re all in their 30s now) motivated me to get them done. To do so, I had to remind myself that the world wouldn’t end if the paper didn’t fit the page or the colors/patterns weren’t exactly right or the photos didn’t line up. It was a battle.

If you’re not a perfectionist, you can laugh at all of this. If you know and love a perfectionist, maybe you can try to understand the person’s need. It is a hard thing to overcome, and I’m certain I won’t be able to completely – it’s one of the things that makes me a good editor, after all. 

The biggest thing that has helped me want to change is knowing that my perfectionism has interfered with reaching my goals, or even starting on a path toward them. I’ve reached the point in my life where I have fewer years ahead of me than behind. It’s time to stop wasting time and get on with it, whatever “it” is.

How has perfectionism affected your life?


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