I am slowly examining my relationship with perfectionism. What brought this issue to the forefront? First: I have children. Cleaning my house, washing finger prints (or paint or marker) off the walls is futile. The floors are never clean.
I have a dog. Ditto the above, minus perhaps a little paint but throw in a decent layer of puppy prints.
The job of a non-profit executive is, hmm, unforgiving. I never leave the office with everything in its place. I’m lucky when the piles only cover my enormous desk and not my meeting table.
I also watch my children learn about the values of practice, persistence, failing, taking breaks, and trying again and I am awestruck. The world is all so new and overwhelming, the instructions are constant, and somehow they make it through each day. Everyone in their lives, including me, are nags. “Put your dish in the sink.” “Put your clothes in the laundry.” “Did you put soap on the dishcloth?” “Pick that up.” “Listen.” “Listen.” “LISTEN!”
Their courage inspires me. Whether it’s the courage to go back to school after being teased the day before, the courage to admit a mistake before the parent-teacher conference, or the courage to try a new sport or group class of any kind, I am inspired.
I am embarrassed that I didn’t realize until recently that courage and perfectionism cannot coexist. In my oversimplified view, being a perfectionist, striving to forever get it right, was courageous. Actually, however, it was smoke and mirrors. In my constant quest for perfection, I hid myself from view: my doubts, insecurities, my humanity. Both as a mom and as a non-profit leader, I tried to radiate a calm I didn’t feel, an ease that wasn’t real. When I saw my kids forgetting that it takes learning a letter before you can read a word, or coloring far outside the lines before you could ever dare to color within them, I slowly realized that perfectionism had a cost.
It is impossible to show those around us that it is everyday life that is the most courageous unless we talk about what makes us afraid, doubt ourselves, or feel ashamed. How can I expect my son to face a friend who’s declared enemy status if he doesn’t know that it is hard, it takes courage, and it does feel scary?
When my daughter has a rough karate class and melts down in front of others, I want her to find the courage to go back in there the next class and face everyone.
When my son navigates the tough waters of friendship, I want him to know that being a kid is tough, that friendships change, grow, leave and sometimes return, and that it’s hard and can feel sad and scary, and all that is okay.
When an employee tries her or his best and cannot fix what feel like insurmountable problems for a client, I want them to know that their best is enough, that I treasure their effort, and that if they served with compassion, effort, and non-judgment, that is all I can ask.
I need to show that same courage: the courage to be human, make mistakes, embarrass myself, and come back. I need to lay down the perfectionism, and show myself.