I’ve always had an obsessive personality with an intense desire for perfection. One of my earliest grade school memories revolves around obsessing over drawing a circle. I remember drawing the circle, then repeatedly erasing it because it wasn’t as circular as I thought it should be. Things became so acute with my circle drawing, that my teacher, Ms. Greenberg called my mother. She told her that I was a perfectionist, who should be much kinder to herself. I was 7 years old.
My obsession and desire for perfection only became worse with maturity. After a long day of work I would find myself replaying the day, critiquing ways I could have improved my performance. I’d rewind feedback I was given, pining over every word, evaluating how they correlated with my self assessment. I’d pick at every aspect of myself – my attire – how I spoke – executive presence. It was exhausting, cruel, and a mental drain.
This pursuit of perfection translated into my home life as well, I worked tirelessly to be the “perfect” wife. Preparing home cooked meals nightly, my former spouse didn’t eat a leftover in over 11 years. I drove myself insane keeping our home clean and organized. I tried and failed at managing competing schedules, which heighted my need to maintain organization and some level of transparency. I found myself foregoing my personal needs and desires to play a supporting role. All of this in pursuit of what I thought was perfection.
After having children my pursuit of perfection became more extreme. This resulted in even less sleep ultimately turning into exhaustion. Being a mom, wife, and maintaining the rigor an executive career yielded endless mom guilt. My mind was consumed with all that I was doing wrong, and the many ways I was screwing up, it was overwhelming. Babies bring a magical kind of neurosis, and I wasn’t exempt from those feelings. I worked to perfect EVERYTHING, from the sanitization of bottles – to matching socks – to shampooing carpets and mopping floors – even tummy time! I was tired, burnt out, and empty.
I reached a point where I had to evaluate the price of the pursuit of perfection, and it became imperative that I reach a level of OKness with the alternative – IMPERFECTION. Through this evaluation I also had to identify and choose the elements of pursuing perfection that I wanted to keep, many of these elements contributed to my success. I also had to choose the elements I wanted to leave behind, in an effort to preserve my sanity and increase my overall happiness.
In pursuing perfection I learned that it aided in the fortification of my grit and relentless work ethic. I’m proud of these characteristics, as they’ve been integral in the successes I’ve experienced. Being unafraid to practice, recalibrate, and perfect a skill or output has made me a competitor in my field. Tenaciously pursuing the goals I’ve set for myself wearing blinkers has helped me maintain a forward focus. This sightless periphery has also established unrattled grit, which has been a lifeline in the sight of the countless no’s and rejection I’ve experienced. All of these attributes were birthed from my pursuit of perfection, and I’m indebted to perfection for instilling them in me.
Conversely, pursuing perfection turned me into someone who can be mechanical, transactional, and robotic. My output is high when I’m on an obsessive bender, but if not properly managed, my emotional input is low. I forget to feel, not giving myself permission to be human, this made me emotionally sterile. Additionally, this characteristic makes it hard for others to be of service to me. My robotic approach to my way of being creates rose colored goggles for onlookers, although I’ve got things seemingly under control, I’m in desperate need of emotional support. Unfortunately, this makes me a prime target for work horse exploitation, something I’m still trying to learn to protect myself from.
Ultimately I had to ask myself, “what’s the point of perfection?” Striving for it comes with a tax that’s too high to pay, my biggest payoffs have been found in imperfect moments. My strongest relationships are with those whose love for me is generous enough to welcome raw imperfection. My greatest lessons have come from mistakes and failure, it’s in those moments I’m forced into stretch mode, and can innovate effective and creative solutions. I’ve built strong teams and experienced success under insurmountable odds when I left room for imperfection. I laugh the most in the presence of imperfection, as it has the power to level the playing field, revealing our humanity through a vulnerable and pure lens. I’ve gained healing through my imperfections, challenging myself to sit with my flaws and find truth, love, and acceptance in them. Most importantly, through setting aside the need for perfection, I’ve learned to experience humanity in a more beautiful way. Seeing all of us as incredibly flawed, fragile vessels, who merely desire someone else to accept the most flawed versions of ourselves.