Saturday, December 8, 2007

Maybe You're Just a Perfectionist

"Perfectionists need to realize they are actually trying to compete with God."

Ouch. A found this quote
on the sidebar of a New York Times article, entitled "Unhappy? Self-critical? Maybe you're just a perfectionist". It came from the reader comment section, presumably after its author read the article linked here. It's a good article, but definitely convicting. It talks about the perfectionist tendency to take various aphorisms, such as "Be all that you can be" or "Never settle for less than your best", to an extreme, and discusses the different manifestations of perfectionism.

As the article states, many perfectionists are proud of their "perfection". Ouch again - how did they know that? I am, admittedly, a perfectionist through and through, the kind that strives to live up to my own standards and has a tendency to feel depressed when I don't. I'm less a perfectionist than some people I know, but isn't it always easy to find someone who's "worse" than you are?

Here's another quote, then a brief story:
"If you can’t tolerate your worst, at least once in a while, how true to yourself can you be?"

My "worst" came out at work this week; we've been working to get a proposal approved in a new system at work and finally got a positive decision on it Friday. I was thrilled, for two minutes. I was looking at the dollar amounts approved and thought to myself, "That's not right..." To make a long story short, when I dove into the details and rechecked the proposal with the approval form, I realized I had made a mistake on the approval form, giving the impression we were seeking approval for a much smaller grant. And this after a battle that has lasted 5-6 weeks.

I wanted to crawl under my desk and hide, or bang my head against the wall. Okay, maybe not anything that extreme, but I was so frustrated with myself! It turned out fine in the end and I think it's actually best we had a smaller amount approved - fund raising will be easier in phases and we likely wouldn't have gotten approval for the larger amount in the first place - but it was still so frustrating. How could I miss such an important detail? Will I ever get this job "right"? Of course these are the very self-critical and depression-inducing thoughts the NY Times article discusses, but I have a hard time turning them off because most of the time I believe I'm better than that.

Thank God for NY Times articles that remind me of the truth - I'm not all I think I am!


Jenny said...

Thanks for sharing the article with us; it's definately an interesting read.

As a fellow perfectionist, I can definately sympathize with you... the past few years, I've definately spent a lot of time trying to figure out WHY I want to do things - do I do them because I actually want to, or because they'll help me get closer to perfection? (That's probably the main reason why I didn't do the history honors program...which I still struggle with accepting sometimes.)

When talking about perfectionism, though, I think people tend to ignore the fact that there's nothing wrong with having high standards...otherwise nothing in the world will ever change for the better. The issue is more being accepting of your faults and own inadequacy. I feel like the distinction isn't always made clear.

Sorry for the long post. :-)

Joel said...

yeahhh.... I have the opposite problem.

LynnaeEtta said...

Jenny - I totally agree with you: there's something to be said for having high standards! :)

Joel - no way?! ;)

USMCschindele said...

Perfection is fools gold. Even if you "attain" it, someone else will look at what you think is real and laugh. Sadly, I still spend too much time and effort searching for the unattainable.

mary ann said...

So, i still haven't had the courage to read the article. We know how I don't like to be confronted with my own weaknesses...(I am my daughter's mother...)

LynnaeEtta said...

Alayna's mom?