We can’t always be perfect, nor can life always go as planned. The other day, for example, I found out from one of my coworkers that I had neglected to put all of the store products back where they belonged, and that the other courtesy clerks had do what should have been my job. Even though it should have been friendly, constructive criticism, I couldn’t help but become anxious about it, and for the next few minutes, I was pretty upset, and the people around me could totally see it. Being the perfectionist I am, that one little mistake became a terrible sin in my mind. To make matters worse, there was no way I could fix my mistake: it was in the past, and we all know that we can’t undo what we have already done, no matter how much we would like to.
I had a break coming up, so as soon as the lines died down, I asked if I could take mine. While in the break room, I took several deep breaths, and plastered myself with positive self-affirmations: “it’s not the end of the world”, “nobody’s perfect,” “just do your best”, “calm down, you’ll perform better if you just relax…”
As I put myself into this self-healing meditative state, I thought of all the other times I had been plagued by perfectionism, and most of them had to do with writing. I would write an essay, the teacher would look over it and return it with her criticisms, and I would go home dejected, even if she thought my essay was pretty good, overall. All I could see were the mistakes, the could-have-been-betters, the faults. I wanted my writing to be perfect the first time, but when it wasn’t (or rather, because it wasn’t!) I died inside every time.
Over the past several years, I did all sorts of things to avoid the pains of my own perfectionism. I’ve written so many blog entries in which I completely ignored grammar, spelling, and cohesiveness, afraid that if I actually looked at my own writing– actually gave it a serious critique, the vicious cycle of self-hate would begin all over again. I stopped editing my writing, stopped caring about whether or not people liked it– just got my ideas posted to the Internet before I could even proofread it. In my mind, this was for the best, because I knew what would happen if I took my writing seriously.
As a result of my perfectionism, I’ve amassed a huge pile of unedited writing. I say I’ll get around to it eventually, but I never do. It’s not because I’m afraid to, and it’s not because I don’t have time to. I know that if I were to properly proofread, edit, and provide supporting evidence and logic for my writing, it would be so much better. But I’m afraid of my own writing– or at least of taking it seriously.
Perfectionism has not only interfered with my love of writing, but with every aspect of my life– everything that I care about. If I start truly dedicating myself to something, one mistake and it’s over. I can’t handle the pain of even a single mistake when it comes to things I care about, because I’m a perfectionist. My room is messy because I know it will never be perfect, and I’m afraid to try. I even falter in my dedication to friendships, because I know that if I actually try to dedicate myself to a friend, I will eventually screw up. Perfectionism has made me afraid of living life, and prevented me from being able to take life seriously.
But I know that resolving these issues is part of the process of achieving emotional maturity. Perfectionism has its merits– I just need to acquire the level of maturity necessary to properly leverage them. If I could learn to be a perfectionist without getting emotionally distraught about my mistakes, I could gain all sorts of useful qualities, and I could learn to successfully turn raw creativity (like that pile of writing I have stacking up!) into art. I just need to find a better way to deal with these emotions, instead of running from them.