(Authenticity > Perfection)

“They say that nobody is perfect.  Then they tell you practice makes perfect.  I wish they’d make up their minds.”

–Winston Churchill

I am a card-carrying perfectionist — if they made cards for this personality trait, that is.  I like made beds and clean floors and empty kitchen sinks.  I don’t like being late or when the kids don’t push in their chairs in my classroom.  I like A’s.  I love A+’s, if anyone is giving them out.  I hate feeling like I could have done better, but I always feel like I could have.  Even if I get an A+.

I have been challenged lately to take a good, hard look at my perfectionism.  The pursuit of perfection makes me rigid and judgmental (especially of myself).  Perfectionism makes me procrastinate.  Perfectionists are procrastinators — don’t let anyone tell you differently.  I am afraid of not doing it well, so I avoid doing it at all for as long as I can, and the avoiding becomes a habit.

Truth be told, being a perfectionist never made me a better friend.  It never made me a better teacher.  It never made me a better musician.  When that perfectionist energy is channeled into the present moment, it becomes action, rather than anxiety or procrastination, and that action does make me better.

So, what is it about perfection that we think we want?  At it’s most basic definition, “perfect” is about conforming to a standard.  When you buy a set of dishes, you want them to all be exactly the same.  The designer makes one cup, and the factory makes thousands that exactly match the first one.  If something is perfect, it matches something else that is deemed to be the “standard.”

For me, being a perfectionist is about always finding someone to imitate.  (I won’t speak for other perfectionists on this point, but I imagine I’m not the only one.)  The perfect hair, the perfect body, the perfect way to be a friend, to be a girlfriend, to teach first grade.  I’ve spent my whole life looking for someone (fictitious or otherwise) to follow.

And let’s be clear, following is not all bad.  Having a mentor is a good and helpful thing in all areas of life.  Looking at someone as a teacher is wise and helpful.  Looking at someone as a pattern is, at best, mildly self-destructive.

Well, guess what?  I am not made according to a pattern.  There is no “Dawn-pattern” somewhere in the world whom I should imitate.  I’ve been challenged to let go of perfectionism in favor of authenticity.  I’m happy to realize, authenticity is something others have seen in me all along.  I’m dismayed to realize that the perfectionist me, the one who took so much emotional energy, is entirely in my head.  When I’m being free and truly myself, I don’t know or worry about what others would do.  Someone once described me to a blind date as “sweet and genuine,” and to this day, it is one of three compliments that have stuck with me over time.

(Another lesson:  Say authentically nice things about people when you can.  Words make a difference.)

Perfection says, “Here is the standard.”  Authenticity says, “That’s not a standard; it’s an example!”  We are not made according to a pattern.  Clean floors are great, and vacuuming is one of the best anxiety-tamers that I know.  Made beds are lovely, if you prefer them that way, and I do.  Being on time is, in my opinion, a way of being respectful of others and responsible with your commitments.  A perfectionist’s behavior could look exactly like a non-perfectionist’s.  It’s all about the motive behind it.  A long time ago, and frequently since, I committed to “blogging authentically,” saying what I really feel and not putting on a facade for any reason.  Sending my real soul out into the world, as it says at the top of my blog.  I am going to work on being consciously authentic in my life as well.

“The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.”

–Anna Quindlen


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Carolina
    Jul 23, 2012 @ 09:42:56

    You said “There is no “Dawn-pattern” somewhere in the world whom I should imitate.” But as a Christ-follower there is One whom we should strive to imitate.


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