For most of my life, others called me a perfectionist, but I didn't see myself that way. I would tell them, "I'm not a perfectionist; I'm the least perfectionistic person I know!"
And it was true.
Most fathers don’t unscrew the handles from the pot lids each time to clean them. Most mothers don’t make a level line out of masking tape in order to trim their daughter’s hair in a straight line. Most boyfriends don't have a list of 20 rules for how to do the laundry. Those standards were also applied to me. Especially applied to me.
That was my normal, so when I held myself to an obsessively high standard that demanded zero errors, especially in an environment where there was always, always constant feedback of ways I should have done everything differently, I couldn't see my perfectionism.
Compared to the extreme examples that were my normal, I was laid-back. Chasing a life where I successfully preempted critique was simple self-preservation. All I was doing was learning and trying to do better next time, right? I learned well that there was only ever one option, and that option was doing something absolutely 100% right according to every possible way someone could look at it.
Anyone who is not a perfectionist just felt the gut-punch of knowing that's not possible. That such a standard is not within the realm of reality. And the perfectionists in the crowd nodded along and dreamed of the day when they would finally feel loved and accepted because they had finally, finally gotten it "right" enough to serve everyone.
I finally see it. I finally see my longstanding perfectionism and am attempting to do something about it. Something that really broke down that barrier for me and made perfectionism visible was watching YouTube videos of out-of-shape people documenting their efforts doing a two-week workout challenge. Their form always started out terrible. Across the board. Everyone started out with the clumsiest, smallest movements. But they kept going. They kept doing their best and approximating the movements as closely as their knowledge and physical ability allowed. (And it wasn't anywhere close for the first several days.)
But then something happened. Over time, they got stronger and better. Every single one of them. Their form got closer to the instructor's video. They were able to do more reps faster without collapsing. And that was despite their obvious and dramatic imperfections. They kept doing the work the best they could, it was visibly imperfect, and it was still working.
It was a transformation.
Doing the workout challenge myself, I started comparing myself to the instructor. My standards started out relaxed at the beginning, but as the days progressed, I demanded more and more from myself and started to lose that sense of ease and acceptance I had started with. It was okay--at the very beginning. But after a few days, I believed I should know better. And all I had for comparison was the person who had designed the workout and was in peak physical shape, and compare I did.
I didn't complete the two weeks. I even cried through one of the workouts because I didn't want to be there. I finished it, and I finished the next day's, too, and was physically stronger and glad I pushed through, but there was an immense struggle there. I quit shortly thereafter.
A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.
What took me a long time to learn, what I am only just now starting to put into practice, is that if I can set a timer and get something done "good enough" in that time frame, it's done. It's. Done. We know in our hearts that a perfectionist's work is never done. A functional human being's work, a happy human being's work, however, can get done. Just get it done. It will be a relief to your heart to finally have something be finished.
Just get it done. Any way you can.
There are two articles linked in the P.S. resources that I find extremely helpful. In summary, the strategy that helps me combat my perfectionism is to think in terms of the impact I want to have and the fastest way to get there (which is great because I'm also very lazy), create checklists for tasks that lack clear guidelines, make mistakes on purpose (and see that they're survivable and sometimes even good bonding experiences with other humans!), setting a time block for a task and then racing to get it done, and realizing my perfectionism comes from a place of fear that sets me up for failure.
When there is fear of failure, there will be failure.
-General Patton (Again, yes. I like his quotes, okay?)
"Practice makes perfect."
"NO!" the gurus cry. "You've got it all wrong. Perfect practice makes perfect!"
I say, throw it all out. Practice makes progress, and that is all you need. (I should write that down somewhere because I am never going to remember that. Hang on...)
Laura Kessner on How to Stop Perfectionism and Get Things Done
YouTube Workout Challenge Videos: