I am often accused of being a perfectionist. And it does feel like it an accution, as in “You’re such a pefectionist!”
Just so you know, this type of accusation is confusing to us perfectionists. Because we don’t understand why wanting everything to be perfect is a bad thing. Until one day we do understand.
One day the world comes crashing down around us in such a way that even we cannot imagine how we will prop it back up. This takes a quite a while, because we perfectionists are usually very strong and resourceful. But eventually even you, or the perfectionist you love/hate, will walk into that crashing-down place — whether it’s from the loss of a loved one, an illness, a one-two punch like losing a job and a relationship at the same time — at some point in life, crashing happens.
So what’s a perfectionist do when they find they can no longer make things perfect? How do you stop wanting things to be perfect? Should you even stop? Wouldn’t that be giving up hope? This has been a huge question in my life.
Now I am seeing: the opposite of perfection is not chaos, like I always feared. The opposite of perfection is not despair, giving up hope of a better world around you. The opposite of perfection is trust.
And that is precisely the problem: trust is secretly what we perfectionists are afraid of. We don’t much like to trust others, and trusting the Universe — mmmmm. Doesn’t sound like a great idea.
This is because of past experience, of course. When we’ve trusted others, assuming they are perfectionists like ourselves, why — typos ensue. Important work deadlines are missed. Holiday gifts are not purchased or appropriately wrapped. And don’t even get us started on when we’ve trusted the Universe! (Have you ever met our families of origin? Does it seem wise to trust the God who put together that particular group of people?)
That’s why their whole world has to crash for a perfectionist to find their way out of perfectionism. It has to be pretty bad, or we’ll just figure it out and carry on. (We save the day a lot; people like that about us.)
But when things do crash, a perfectionist has a great opportunity to learn what trust is, how and when to trust other people, which people to trust and which to keep a nice little distance from, and — most importantly — how to trust the Universe, even in light of the parents it gave you.
At its heart, perfectionism is just a state of being wherein fear is stronger than trust. If this is true for you, all you have to do is increase your trust and decrease your fear. Can remember one person you trusted that came through for you when you needed it? Most of us have many when we think about it; it’s just that we usually think about the people who let us down rather than the people who were there for us. Can you look at your life and instead of seeing all the horrible things notice the times the Universe protected you? How about just coming home every night safely, having enough food to eat, having a friend? Can you focus on the million times you did cool things instead of the dozen times you did stupid things, and trust yourself a little bit more, rather than being so incredibly hard on yourself?
Then you’re on your way. And you’re not alone. I’ve been trusting people more lately. Sometimes they have come through and it’s so gratifying and touching, like a crowd of incredible, strong, smart people have been around me this whole time, just waiting (and waiting and waiting) for me to perhaps say “Hey, I can’t do all this. Can you help me out?”
Sometimes people have not come through for me lately. Sometimes the Universe feels much less friendly than I’ve wanted it to. And I have said very loudly, “This sucks.” And then the world has continued. Not perfectly and not coming to a fiery end. The world has just continued, as it is, with its fears, love, flaws, beauty, hilarity, imperfection.
Maybe that’s it. I used to try to trust the world’s perfection, and it just didn’t freaking work. Now I’m trusting the world’s imperfection. And so far, so good.
By: Tara Greenway