Perfectionism Redefined

I’m at a serious cross-roads in my life. I have shed much of the weight of my previous life and career–active parenting of young children, a job that no longer fills me, the responsibility of building and maintaining a family home, cooking, dusting, ironing the sheets only to have them go through the wash cycle again (okay, so maybe that last one was more aspirational than actual, but you get my drift)–my load is lighter, lighter than it’s ever been. And after almost 30 years of “doing the right thing,” I am ready to ask a different question:

Am I going to do this right, or am I going to do this as me?

I first heard this question posed on a podcast–Pivot by Jenny Blake whose guest that day was Jeffrey Shaw, host of the Creative Warrior podcast. The topic under discussion was perfectionism, and not just any kind of perfectionism, but the kind of perfectionism that demands that you not only do the right thing, but that you do the right thing in the right way. The One Right Way.

So this got me thinking.

Uh oh. I know, me and thinking, that’s trouble.

But hear me out.

I’m hardly one to stand in the way of a man and his perfectionism–I happen to think the drive for excellence is a good thing–but not when it’s to a fault. And most certainly not when it is singular, monolithic, prescribed by some external authority. God, even.

The maverick in me rises up and rebels, questions, and eventually discards such sheep-ish idiocy. Or it did. Back in the day as my students like to say. Back when I did not listen.

But more recently, in the middle part of my life, I seem to have abdicated my selective hearing and just baa-ed along with the rest.

I drove myself nuts trying to “be consistent” with my kids and prepare healthy, organic meals from scratch for the fam. I went overboard trying respond to every single piece of writing my students generated–yes, even that shitty reflection on what they learned during the course (nothing, in case you were wondering). I took up running, even though I hated it, and gave up sugar, even though I loved it. I published papers, won awards, climbed the proverbial ladder, only to find on the other side . . . you guessed it, more papers, more awards, more ladders to climb.

So, perfectionism misdirected. Too much “doing this right;” not enough “doing this as me.”

The lesson has come home to roost more recently in the professional arena. As I transition to the entrepreneurial world, I am being bombarded with a whole host of new demands. Do this! Do that! This is the best way! This is the way Mr. Expert did it! You will make millions overnight! This way to doing nothing and raking in the dough!

My head hurts.

It’s probably true. These folks are probably insanely successful. And I’m sure they’ve found the secret formula.

But my head hurts.

The last time I used the word “funnel” in a sentence was when I was trying to pour bacon fat into a bottle (don’t ask!). And even then, I wasn’t entirely sure what I was doing or why.

I’m sure there is a right way. A way the crow flies. Do not stop. Do not pass go. Do not collect your $200.

Straight to jail.

That’s how it feels to me. Constricting. Ill-fitting. Like that pair of low-rise skinny jeans. Jail. Hell.

So when Marsh asked, “Are you going to do this right, or are you going to do this as yourself?” I sat up a little straighter.

Good question.

I’ve tried Option A. Maybe it’s time to try Option B. Time to do this as Me.

But what does that even mean? What does “doing something as me” look like?

So I asked around–my friends, my family, my mother–all the people who know me best: What does it look like when I do something as me? And this is what I learned:

  1. Do first, ask permission later. Or never.
  2. Throw out the templates. (Turns out, I like starting from scratch).
  3. Double-down on your strengths. Don’t waste your time trying to shore up your weaknesses.
  4. Problematize. You’re good at solving problems, so approach everything as if it were a problem to solve.
  5. Communicate.
  6. Enjoy the process. Bottom-lines are for other people.
  7. Keep it fresh. Tried-and-true is tiresome.

So today I give myself permission to do this–this life, this work, this love–as me!

It’s not perfect. Just perfect-for-me.

How about you?

Are you going to do this right (again!), or are you going to do this as YOU?

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Categories: Reflections

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6 replies

  1. Your talking about `The One Right Way’ led to this. Although it sounds like opinionated rubbish, I can’t but recall something a mathematician said, the gist being `while there may be many different proofs of a mathematical statement/theorem/proposition/whatever-you-wish-to-call-it, there is one whose elegance and clarity of perception which stands out for these reasons, and that is the proof you will find in The Book, a compilation of beauty preserved by God’. There are some proofs which you know on sight as belonging to The Book!

  2. Man, it’s so hard to quiet those voices and just do things your way. This post is such a marvelous inspiration to “throw out the template”!

  3. “That’s how it feels to me. Constricting. Ill-fitting. Like that pair of low-rise skinny jeans. Jail. Hell.” Love this!

  4. Good advice for all of us at any juncture in our lives, in any aspect of our lives.

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