This is not my laundry closet. I believe what I have is more appropriately called a laundry dungeon. Still, I do love pictures of tidy, sparkling cupboards, “mud” rooms, and, of course, closets.
My house doesn’t look like one of these very lovely Pinterest images and that’s okay. Other people do have houses like this, and that’s okay too. I admire and applaud their dedication to beautifying and organizing their homes.
However, I think we need to be careful not to be too seduced by the idea of having everything be just so. We can’t expect to have every aspect of our life look like it should be documented in a magazine.
There is no such thing as perfect. Everyone intellectually knows this. Yet, somehow the striving for perfection is a big part of our lives. Well-meaning people everywhere are sold on the idea that if things are perfect, they will be safe and happy. This is the myth of perfection.
Perfection is actually a big bully that will rob you of joy, lead you to fear, and keep you feeling constantly inadequate.
The pursuit of perfection is a fear-based activity. It says things must be perfect or else something bad will happen. If my grades are not straight A’s, I’m a failure who will never go to college and will end up homeless and I’ll be a disgrace to my parents. If I don’t look perfect, I’ll never find a partner and I’ll be insignificant and die alone. If I let my kids eat something other than organic food ever or watch a couple of hours of TV, they will fail and hate me and it will be all my fault.
These sound like extreme views, but I don’t really think they are. Honest, reasonable people from my personal and professional life tell me these kinds of stories all the time. Think deep on this one. Do you buy into some need for perfection in your life?
When we aim for perfection in our lives, we will always feel let down. Being a human is not conducive to perfection. I don’t really know how we got so fond of the idea anyway.
I reject perfectionism. I’m going to eat well because it makes me feel good, but sometimes I’m going to eat something that is highly pleasing that’s unhealthy because it exists and I want it. I’m going to work pretty hard because I love what I do and want to make a living to support my family, but sometimes I make mistakes or need to take a couple of days off. I’m going to try to be attentive to my child, but sometimes she is going to fall or struggle because she is a human being.
I believe that the myth of perfection is behind a substantial and unnecessary amount of anxiety in our society. I think it leads us to fear being ourselves, puts pressure on ourselves and those around us to be super-human, and makes connecting with each other more difficult. If I don’t want to admit to being imperfect, I’m going to present myself in a false way, expect my family to live up to this as well, and certainly not admit or seek help when I falter.
I want to be myself without the burden of being perfect. I want to be authentic and connected with others. That means that sometimes I forget things and maybe my hair is messy. Maybe my child has a big stain on her shirt today. Maybe I have no clean socks. But maybe that’s a small price for putting other things that felt more important first today.
But now maybe I really do need to go and do some laundry.
I absolutely love what you wrote. I was born a perfectionist and before I ever saw a magazine or pinterest board, I wanted things to be perfect. Maybe it’s a slight case of OCD. When I see those pictures on pinterest I always want to ask whether anyone beside that perfect person lives in that house. I’ve let a lot of it go, but it still rankles me to see things out of place and I can’t wear anything that’s stained or wrinkled. It’s a curse, but I’m working on it.
I had both OCD and ADD, so everything has to be clean and perfect…but only for a little while. On the whole, I prefer a house that looks like someone lives in it.
Thank you both, Debbie and Robyn. I think some of us are wired towards wanting things just so and when we live in a society that rewards “perfection” it can really take a hold of our lives, I think. These are great comments. It reminds me that many people have to work extra hard to not let perfection boss them around. Thank you so much for sharing.
SO true. Wanting to be perfect is such a trap. I wonder what makes one person inherently strive for perfection and another not so much. I think there are good qualities in that striving (like motivation, caring for achieving) but like all things balance is key.
Have you seen Brené Brown’s interview with Oprah where they talk about her study of vulnerability? She also talks about perfectionism in much the same way you do ‘rob you of joy, lead to fear’. It’s a must see! I talk about it on my blog: http://keepingcreativityalive.com/?p=846
Letting go of perfection is the best thing you can do for yourself, in my opinion. Talk about a weight off your shoulders. Of course, I still need to remind myself of this every now and then. No one’s perfect. 🙂
Lina- you make some good points. Striving is a good quality. We need to use it wisely. The myth of perfection leads us to use it unwisely is my opinion. I think it’s about being careful about our priorities and making sure we invest our time and energy into what really makes our lives satisfying. That’s different for each and every person.
Jennifer- you are so right! It’s so much easier to go through life without the burden of perfection (even if we forget that from time to time!). I’m all about reserving my emotional and physical energy for what’s truly important.
Here’s a sentence from this great post that I love, and will put into writing somewhere, not sure yet where – (maybe my laundry room)
Talking about what perfectionism does to people: “It leads us to fear being ourselves”. That’s a pretty true – and profound – statement, Hannah. I know it is important to be liked and approved of, most people want that on some level. But why does it so often have to be at the expense of being who we really are? I wonder what would happen if we declared one day to be our “Be Who You Really Are Day”.
“authentic and connected with others”…That fits my definition of perfect. It is having the maturity to stand responsibly in the face of temporal flaws engaging fully, honestly in the human condition. If life doesn’t move you to laughter, you’re holding too tightly. Loosen your grip and enjoy.
Well said, Michael! Thank you for your insightful comment.
Bonnie- I love your thoughts. I find that I just don’t want to use the energy to pretend to be something other then myself. But I think most people like me all the better for it. The people who want me to different, I wouldn’t keep them happy too long anyway!