November 22, 2020 – The pitfalls of being a perfectionist.

I wish I was someone that could just do something mediocre and be ok with it. But I wasn’t born that way. It doesn’t matter what the task, how large or how small, I have to work at it until I achieve perfection. My husband reminded me today that ‘I have a problem’, which I readily agree. When I woke up this morning, my goal was to finish painting the bathroom walls. I initially thought I had finished earlier this afternoon. And then I went back and started noticing areas that weren’t completely covered. So I painted some more. And then I went back and noticed even more places that I missed. So I painted some more. And believe it or not, here we are, late into the evening, and yet again, I just found two more areas that were missed and resurrected the paint and brush for the umpteenth time. I tell you, it’s exhausting!

Had I been smarter, I would have just gone with white paint. It’s nothing special but it also ‘hides’ a lot of flaws because if you go over white primed walls with white paint, even I can barely notice if some areas have been missed. The only giveaway is some areas are ‘shinier’ than others, unless you use flat paint, then it’s anyone’s guess. But I decided to get a little ‘wild’ this time and choose a color, a color that I thought was in the beige family, but it ended up more in the ‘purple’ family. When it was wet it was perfect, but when it dried, it dried much darker than I anticipated. Ordinarily, I would paint over it again. However, this time, I’m going to see once everything is installed (countertop, tile, floor, etc.), if the look works. If it doesn’t work, when or if I get the energy again, I’ll tackle it another day.

Being a perfectionist makes it challenging to do most tasks because you tend to do things more than once. When I write each day to you, my friends, I wish you knew how much care and consideration I put into each ‘blog’ or ‘whatever you want to call what I’m doing’. I usually begin with a topic that reflects whatever I may have experienced that particular day. And then I try to put some clever, concise, interesting paragraphs together to make it all one beautiful, cohesive unit with a clear beginning and a clear ending. But in the process of all of this, I read it over and over again. Even now, I am tempted to jump back to the first paragraph and read it once more. Maybe I put something in the wrong ‘tense’ or maybe I used the ‘first’ person instead of the ‘third’ person? Or maybe I used the wrong word to describe something? Heaven forbid!

I constantly ‘fact check’ and pull up the online thesaurus and check my spelling and grammar. I don’t even like to use the same adjectives too often or back to back but sometimes it’s difficult to do that. And sad to say, sometimes I even revisit older posts and see if I can improve them. I noticed when I started out that I would just write one long, uninterrupted ‘thought’. There were no breaks and sometimes things kind of got lost. It certainly is easy to lose your place when everything’s all bunched up together. Fortunately, I’ve learned to place ‘breaks’ every now and then and start new paragraphs. It’s helpful for me as the writer and I think it’s helpful for you, too, as the reader.

Do you want to know one of the things that’ll send me into outer limits? Having company over. The tiniest things become magnified. Normally, I can live with a few cobwebs here and there, dust bunnies and even smudges on the doors and walls. But when I know we’re expecting company, I see e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g! It’s not enough just to clean up the kitchen, what about all of the other spaces our guests could possibly use or even just walk through? What most people look forward to, having guests, is my worst nightmare. I work for days on each room that I think someone might ‘wander’ into. Essentially, that’s everywhere but our bedroom. I hope they don’t ‘wander’ into my bedroom! Needless to say, every bathroom must be scoured, including the tub and shower. Every cobweb must be vanquished. And it’s amazing how many cobwebs you find when you bother to look ‘up’. I don’t spend a lot of time looking up usually because it hurts my neck, but I do when I’m expecting company and I’m usually mortified by what I find.

The issue with doing all of this work before having ‘company’ over is that once they do arrive, you’re so wiped out physically that you cannot even enjoy them. Your whole body hurts and all you can think about is when they will finally say goodbye and head out the door. That’s honestly the best part of having company for me. I give my house a good scrubbing and then once they leave, I turn into a couch potato for a couple of days until I’m fully recovered. It’s for this reason that we’ve put out less ‘invitations’ in the last couple of years. Covid has certainly helped curb some of the requests. I am actually grateful for that. I used to let anyone stay with us that asked in the past, and then I decided it was ok to put up some boundaries. Before, I would let ‘friends’ of ‘friends’ stay with us and use our shower and all of our toiletries and sleep in our guest bed and dirty our linens and eat our food. I’m am past all of that now. If I’m going to practically kill myself to ensure the house is ‘perfect’, only close friends and family are on the guest list.

Please don’t even ask me what I think when I look at my own reflection in a mirror. That’s a terrible thing to ask a perfectionist. I’ve gotten rather good at picking myself apart. There is no perfection there. Even when I was 19 and had a firm, toned body and a full, vibrant head of hair and beautiful skin, I would say I scored around an eight. Now? I’d be happy with a four or five. There’s just too much going wrong. And because of my health, I have to learn to live with it, which is incredibly difficult for me! Because of my meds, I’ve developed tremors and lost a lot of my hair. My hair was always the thing I could count on. People always gave me compliments on it. I told my doctor that my little pink scalp is frightened because so much of it is exposed. It’s feeling vulnerable. I’m feeling vulnerable. I look at myself and I see wrinkles and age spots and sags and bags and scars and bruises. It ain’t pretty. Maybe I should just stop looking in the mirror.

How do you cure a perfectionist? Or is that even possible? I think it is possible to a degree, but it isn’t easy. And I think being older certainly helps. With age comes wisdom. You start to surrender a bit when time is not on your side. As much as you want to do something over again, when you’re tired, it makes you think twice about it. And I’m tired a lot. My priorities are shifting. My car used to be spotless but now I can go several months without vacuuming it out or washing the exterior. The dog actually had a lot to do with that. Do you have a dog? And does your dog like to go for rides like mine does? I have a car with a black interior and a white dog (that sheds a lot). After you’ve spent enough time trying to remove short, spiky dog hair out of upholstery and carpet, you usually start to reassess what really matters in life. That’s not how I want to spend my time.

Are you a ‘recovering’ perfectionist? Or are you still going full-tilt? Or are you someone that’s perfectly happy with doing a mediocre job? If you’re in the ‘mediocre’ category, I just have to say I commend you! I think you’ve got the right idea. You’re probably going to outlive most of us. But if you’re one of us that has to recheck the bathroom for ‘white spots’ (using a flashlight) nearly 20 times after painting it, you have my compassion. I know how it is. It sucks. But you have the power to change it. Having children or pets definitely helps and if neither of those work, aging will generally do it. You’ve had kids and pets and you’re old and you’re STILL a perfectionist? Try a glass of wine, that should do the trick!


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