Perfectionism is a new kind of disease that is afflicting millions of people–you always have to get things right, take control and take on the lion’s share of work so that you can feel that you’re controlling the path of your own destiny, bending the universe to your very will.
This, which you know, is impossible. Believe me, I’ve tried.
I’m a recovering perfectionist, having been a high achiever in high school and college. The fact that my life isn’t exactly going the way I wanted has proven to be a bit of a balm and has helped loosen up (some of) my obsessive, controlling ways.
If you think you might be suffering from some chronic perfectionism, have a look at these symptoms and see if you might need to step back from worshiping at the pedestal of perfection.
1. You always have to be in control.
The first sign of perfectionism is the need to always be in control. If you’re working on a school or college project, you’re always the one who takes charge, dictates the pace and delegates tasks to everyone else.
The only problem is that even delegating can leave you antsy and worried that things just aren’t being completed to your personal standards. When group members bring in their work, you rework it and edit it a bit (or a lot) and then make sure that it all makes sense to you. You take on the lion’s share of work just to make sure you always stay in control of the project.
It’s not that you don’t trust other people–it’s just that you trust yourself more, and you know deep down that you’ll be able to get it all done and sorted perfectly.
2. Nothing is ever good enough.
Another sign of true perfectionism is that nothing ever seems to be good enough. It doesn’t matter whether or not it’s something serious or something trivial; nothing can ever seem to be just ‘done’ enough.
If you’ve written something, you’ll always want to tweak a word or a phrase or change the font until it becomes perfect (at which point you’ve run over deadline). If you’ve drawn something, you’ll keep adding or changing details about it, until the picture no longer resembles what you intended.
The idea of nothing ever being good enough comes from a deep anxiety of missing out on something that will somehow stop it from being the best representation of yourself–that one word that could have made your essay, or the little detail that would have made your drawing outshine the others.
3. You have to do everything yourself.
This has already been mentioned in an above point but it really is worth noting–being a perfectionist means that you generally have to do everything yourself.
It doesn’t always have to be literally doing everything by yourself–you’re not superhuman after all–but you can be damn sure that you’ll be mentally supervising and creating a checklist of stuff to check up on and correct the second you have a bit of free time.
The art of puttering becomes a corrective institution–tucking things away a little neater so that they’re just so, adjusting something when someone leaves the room so that they don’t feel offended that you changed what they did right in front of them, or even doing the smallest of small adjustments that only you will notice.
4. You can’t let go of the little things.
The little things bug the hell out of you–and we’re not talking about things like a relative mispronouncing a word, or not getting the last muffin in the lunch line.
We’re talking things like finding yourself baking and the recipe goes slightly wrong. It’s not wrong enough to affect it much, but immediately you’re deflated and considering half a dozen ways to either correct the situation at once, or to trash it all and start again. After all, if it isn’t absolutely perfect, what’s the point? A missing crayon, a lost sock or a cracked plate later, and you’re tearing your hair out and considering a mid-afternoon drink.
Not being able to let go of the little things can haunt your every waking moment and can even cause some pretty random flashbacks to times in the past when you messed up or didn’t do as well as you could. That time you split your jeans at school or got a B instead of your usual A? Yep, that’ll haunt you.
5. The idea of ‘getting things perfect’ is driving you insane.
Finally, the key symptom of being a perfectionist is when you need to get things right the first time and every attempt after drives you absolutely up the wall. It’s exhausting and unfair, and you wish you could turn it off, but you can’t.
This absolutely impossible need to be the perfect person all the time is–while kind of admirable–also hugely detrimental to your overall health.
To-do lists, pie charts, self-help and self-improvement books and the glossy sheen of the media are like drug fixes to any hugely-invested perfectionist. We crave the idea of one day attaining this perfect, permanent state of competence and unhurried serenity, which is a lovely thought, but one that is about as pragmatic as a teapot made from chocolate.
As someone who once saw the Stepford Wives as role models for their perfect lives, I can all but admit that being a perfectionist sucks. It is time-draining and actually burns up more time, energy and effort than just letting go and letting some things just fall where they may. Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of being in control, but there comes a point where the strong grip of control becomes a noose of constraint.
I’m working on easing off on my perfectionist ways, and while they’ll have to grasp my to-do list out of my cold, dead hands, I’m starting to let things go and loosen up a little bit. After all, life isn’t perfect, but everyone else seems to be doing okay. And, right now at least, that’s good enough for me.