Don’t be a perfectionist: 5 steps to recovery

December 22, 2013 · 4 comments

in Inspiration

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I just rewrote my book manuscript for the third time — and it was total agony. The final, two-day push was a marathon effort involving very little sleep, six slices of pizza and lots of cookies. Did I mention that my normal diet is dairy-, sugar- and gluten-free?

Haha! The past week was super-stressful because I was delivering the draft to my editor one week late. Still, this is better than my initial decision to work on it over the Christmas holiday. While that now seems like such an obviously bad idea, I only realized it during my last therapy session.

“You need to put the draft in the hands of your editor,” advised my shrink. “There are other things you need to be doing.”

I walked into that therapy session talking about how hard it was to rewrite Chapter 1. It had taken me two whole days. But after our little talk, I rethought my strategy and speeded things up. Instead of spending more whole days on single chapters, I managed to massage 14 more chapters over the next three days. The pace of my output surprised even me.

This is what I learned:

Step 1: Own up to perfectionism as a potential problem. While it’s great to give 1,000%, how that energy is spent matters. Looking back, two whole days making tiny tweaks to Chapter 1 really didn’t make it that much better. What helped was hearing my shrink say that in his experience with writers and creative types, there is a tendency to constantly rework the material. Hmm, I’m not the only one. Getting perspective is very valuable.

Step 2: It’s important to keep moving. Now that the chapters are done, I can start exploring illustrations for the book. Just as importantly, I’m finally free to tend to parts of my life that have been neglected. At last, I’ve weeded the garden. Tomorrow, I vacuum the house for the first time in two weeks. I also caught up with some friends.

Step 3: Taking control is a good thing. My mom and dad were super-demanding Chinese immigrants who fit the description of tiger parents. But since I’m 57 and they’ve both passed on, I’m done with whining about how they pushed me to achieve. They did the best they could. And for crying out loud, if I can’t figure out how to live on my own terms, what’s the point?

Step 4: Giving up perfectionism makes real accomplishment possible. I don’t know about you, but once I worry about being really good or perfect, I am paralyzed. Nothing gets done because I start watching myself. I turn into a self-conscious performer instead of being in the moment.

Step 5: Easing up creates a more supportive environment for everyone. If I can become more consistent in cutting myself some slack, I think it will change how I parent. Really, do I have to pester my daughter to earn A’s in college or keep her room clean? What do I really want her to learn during these important years?

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The days are quickly slipping towards Dec. 31. And I know exactly what I need to do to make 2014 a truly happy new year. It’s time to let go. Stop striving for perfection. Start being real. If I can do that, fulfillment and happiness are ahead.

So…am I the only one struggling to get out of the perfectionist trap? If you could escape too, what would suddenly become possible? Could you also breathe more easily — and happily?

 

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

betty ming liu December 23, 2013 at 10:01 am

A friend of mine just read this post and said that she’s not a perfectionist but a procrastinator. Hmmm, I’m both. I think I put off doing things because I don’t have enough time to do it right. Or at least, I tell myself that there’s not enough time!

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Hillary Rettig February 22, 2014 at 1:02 pm

Perfectionism is the major (tho not only!) catalyst for procrastination:

I hope these links help:
http://www.hillaryrettig.com/perfectionism/
http://www.hillaryrettig.com/procrastination/

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betty ming liu February 22, 2014 at 5:02 pm

Thanks for sharing, Hillary!

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