I am a recovering perfectionist.
Before I became a mother, I had more time for perfection. Or rather, more time to attempt it. My striving-for-perfection self from eight years ago has changed into a woman who strives for excellence instead. Even still, I struggle constantly to ignore that perfectionist voice inside my head.
Perfectionism almost ruined my marriage. I constantly corrected my husband because he didn’t fold the towels the right way (which really meant my way). We fought over housework or how he never argued with me (what kind of logic was that?). I’d tell him how to hold the baby or told him he wasn’t bouncing her correctly. I made him feel like he wasn’t good enough husband or father.
Perfectionism sabotaged my success. I worked a direct sales business for 12 years. While I was very successful at selling the products, I dreaded everything else. Especially the phone calls. I never knew the right thing to say so why bother calling if I would just get rejected anyway? Or I’d spend hours creating the perfect spreadsheet to track the sales from my parties instead of using that time to do things that actually brought me money.
Perfectionism showed up everywhere. Recipes I created were never good enough. Even as my husband and our dinner guests oooh’d and aaah’d over my dishes, I mentally dissected it. It needed more salt or next time I’ll add less garlic and more chiles. There was always something that could have been better. I couldn’t enjoy my own cooking.
Perfectionism held me back.
Looking back through the lens of a much older, wiser me, I realized that I was not a very happy person during that part of my life. I was unhappy with myself because I set unattainable standards. Not just for me. But for everyone around me. No one, not even I, could live up to my standards.
When I became a new mother, I didn’t have time for perfect. I just had time to get it done or I would never get more sleep that the catnaps I took throughout the day.I thought I had a handle on perfect. Better done than perfect, I told myself.
As my daughter grew older, I started to see myself in her. She’s inquisitive, imaginative and creative. We often made art together. When she was three years old, as we were drawing together, she threw down her crayon in frustration. She wanted to draw a cat or something but she was paralyzed with fear. I encouraged her to just try. Her response? “It won’t be perfect. You do it.”
What had I done? Had I unconsciously passed my need for perfectionism to my 3-year-old? She was so worried that her cat wouldn’t look perfect she refused to draw at all. Once she started crying because she didn’t know how to read or write. She was only three!
How many times had I refused to do something because I knew it would never come out perfect? Too many times. She must have seen me act this way more often than I realized. What I thought was my internal battle was manifesting itself outwardly. It was affecting my little girl.
I will never forget that afternoon. I don’t want my children to carry the burden of perfectionism like I did. I knew I had to change something. But before I could help my children, I had to change my attitude. I used to have a postcard taped to my computer. It read:
I am careful not to confuse excellence with perfection. Excellence, I can reach for; perfection is God’s business. –Michael J. Fox
I have learned to recognize when I start to become obsessed with making something perfect. I tell my children when I make a mistake so that they can see it’s ok to admit our failures. Even better, I make mistakes in front of them (and admit to it). I have to model excellence, not perfection.
I’ll proudly wear my “recovering perfectionist” badge. If I give up before I’ve started because of my need to be perfect, then I have failed for not trying at all.
I’m giving up on perfect. I’ll strive for excellence instead.
On the 14th of every month, I’ll be revealing the truth about motherhood with 12 other writers. Follow the hashtag #NakedMoms, and check out the links from the other moms and find out which stories resonate with you the most:
To Be a Better Mom You Have to Give Up by Steph at Confessions of A Stay-At-Home Mom
Giving Up On Perfect Single Motherhood by Laila at Only Laila
The Time I Almost Gave Up on Motherhood by Vaneese at Mommy Works A Lot
Motherhood: The Sacrifices No One Tells You About, But You Need to Know by Joyce at Mommy Talk Show
To Let Go and Let God by Jacquie at The Sweeter Side of Mommyhood
I Didn’t Want to be a Mom by Summer at The Dirty Floor Diaries
Mothering While Introverted by Diamonte at Liberated Mommy
Motherhood is About Giving Up by Jessica at A Parent In Silver Spring
Motherhood: I Give Up by Stephanie at When Crazy Meets Exhaustion
Giving Up Supposed To Be by Brandi at Mama Knows It All
Giving Up And Getting Down by Heather at Diary of A First Time Mom
Wow. I feel like I am reading my own thoughts. I struggle with the tendencies of perfectionism – but it's all inward. Wanting things to be exactly as I plan them to be, perfectly executed. When things don't go as planned, if I don't achieve what I want to achieve, it's an auto-failure. how is that a way to live?! I love the MJF quote – a great distraction: Excellence vs. Perfection.
My recent post To Be a Better Mom You Have to Give Up #NakedMom
It's hard, isn't it? To let go of our stuff and let our kids be who they are. Sometimes, I think that as a blogger, it's even harder, because we need to get the perfect shot and we have a deadline, and we're thinking about everyone who's going to see this imperfect thing. I've let go of this, too, and I know it isn't easy. I'm learning to love the imperfect me, too.
My recent post Giving Up Supposed To Be #NakedMoms
You must be in my brain. I've let perfectionism paralyze me from pursuing things I know I want because I'm afraid to fail.
You've made me think about excellence vs. perfection.
My recent post Motherhood: The Sacrifices No One Tells You About, But You Need to Know #NakedMoms
I nag my husband about not folding the towels the "right" way too. I'm not a perfectionist by any standards, but I understand the struggle in a similar way. I've been paralyzed by fear too and it's terrifying. I'm glad that you are changing your focus. That's so strong.
This is an excellent post (and I can relate). This #NakedMoms series is super intriguing too. Off to read some more! 🙂
My recent post Multicultural Children’s Book Day: A Project Manager’s Perspective
I sooooo needed that quote at the end. I too can be a bit of a perfectionist. I say it's OK to be that way at work, since I'm not like that at home. I get frustrated that interns don't do a task quick/good enough, then I remembered that they are learning. And as a mom, I am learning too! I'm learning it's OK is everything doesn't go as planned.
I battle with this everyday. I've gotten to the point where I can admit that I can't do it all alone and don't have it altogether. But the area that I want to work on it most is with my kids. I often catch myself trying to make what she does perfect, when I'm not perfect and it's an unfair expectation. I think realizing you're not perfect and wanting to change is the first step.