The Death of a Perfectionist

If you're a perfectionist and you haven't already figured it out, at some point you will realise that not only will you spend most of your life pissed off, you'll also feel like you're in jail.

DEATH OF A PERFECTIONIST

If you're a perfectionist and you haven't already figured it out, at some point you will realise that not only will you spend most of your life pissed off, you'll also feel like you're in jail.

This was me for most of my life until one day I decided the whole idea was ridiculous and futile. Right at the time I made this grand decision I was having a conversation with an NBL and elite athlete performance coach, telling him how exhausted I was with this lifelong behaviour. I'm not sure exactly what I was trying to perfect at the time, but he very much understood where I was coming from as he'd dealt with this nearly every day with the elite athletes he was coaching. At the end of our chat he stood up, leant on my desk and suggested I work on excellence and stop striving for perfection. Well, that solved my problem didn't it?! What on earth was the difference. I mean, they are two different concepts and I guess excellence has less potential failure about it, but for me it still felt a bit gray. I went away none the wiser, but figured that playing excellence wasn't going to serve me anymore than perfection.

This is a family problem that probably goes back generations. I see it very much in my mother, she has spoken to me about her father being like this and like some genetic disorder it's continued down the line to me. Funnily enough I married someone my polar opposite who is a living example of excellence vs perfection. In hindsight I probably should have paid more attention to that side of him when we met 25 years ago. I might have had a much freer life, but no doubt I was being too perfect to do that!!!

When you're on the hunt for perfection all you really achieve is failure and a solid dash of hatred towards yourself for not living up to your expectations. Not to mention the absurd expectations you have of others. And when you do fail, because you ALWAYS do, it's like throwing kerosene on all your limiting beliefs. How to set up a magnificently happy life for yourself! It's exhausting to even remember this.

Pretty much everything I attempted up until about 5 years ago I expected I would be brilliant at (aka perfect) and I couldn't accept anything less than that. I was playing A Grade ladies softball and hockey when I was 12 years old and I was training with a State talent squad in tennis. The idea of not excelling and being "perfect" at these sports set me up for quitting and complete failure. Actually there were a lot of other factors involved in this, but certainly the high expectations played an enormous part. When you start to get somewhere through practice, will and determination or talent that's awesome, but it's never ever ever good enough; the bar keeps getting raised until there isn't anywhere to go but down.

I started learning the piano when I was 6 years old. Every day I'd practice and if I repeatedly messed something up I would punch myself on the leg until it bruised. Because that's going to work! And then there was that day I decided I wanted to play golf professionally. In my mind that was where I would be on my first day. I mean golf! Of all the things a perfectionist wants to take up golf isn't it. And clearly it wasn't, I spent too much of my time digging holes in fairways because that shot wasn't exact and throwing clubs around like a spoilt brat.

I remember going for an interview back in the 90s and my potential employer asking me what my weaknesses were. All I could think of was telling him I was a perfectionist, but I didn't know whether that would put a nail in my coffin and at the time I needed the job. I'm sure there were a list of things I could have mentioned, but nothing came to me so decided to brave the waters. There was a lengthy pause and an extended "mmmmmmm" before I got the, "someone will be in touch soon" line. Actually I got the job so either he had no one else or he decided to take a punt. It wasn't this particular job, but some years later I was the National Customer Service Manager for a logistics and warehousing company. There's not much to say here other than perfectionists cannot manage people because they will never do what you want them to do. You can read this as control freak (or me expecting these people to do what I would do the way I would do it). Self employment is all I have to say there!!! I did have another go at that managing thing more recently, but I'm pleased to say that self employment is still a far more logical option. :)

This problem even ventured into how the table was set and the perfect squareness to the edge the placemats needed to be. The salt and pepper needed to be perfectly in the centre of the table and the bottoms of the knives, forks and spoons all needed to perfectly line up. Thank God I also have a crazy sense of humour and I can laugh at myself when these things are pointed out. I may still have a mini issue here, but nothing I lose sleep over.

Now all these things are pretty hard to openly admit because I'm effectively showing you what a dickhead I was, but that's the truth of where I was at at that time and I'm pretty certain I'm not alone here. I like to think I was the only one privvy to this side of myself since I was most often "internally perfect", berating myself in my mind, but no doubt if I asked some of my family and close friends they would have seen this side of me regularly. But after years of living with this behaviour and not liking it I decided to shut it down. The energy required to live up to these high standards was not worth it (and impossible). Like a light switch, I turned it off, but I needed to first understand more what life was all about. Once I did it was quite easy. I made the choice and I made the change. I still have a few quirks with straight things and there are times in my work I struggle getting to the end of things because "it's just not quite right", but in a peaceful kind of way and with far less procrastination.

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