A few years ago, I spoke to a large group of moms about finding happiness in life. The audience was a diverse mix of mothers; ones that stayed home with their children and ones that combined a career with motherhood. I have to admit that I received a number of really fabulous questions from the audience. However, there’s one question that I can’t seem to ever forget.
I believe it best represents this idea of perfection that some people strive to achieve.
A woman in the back of the audience stood up and shared that no matter how productive she is during the day, she feels like a failure if she goes to bed and her floors aren’t clean. She admitted that most nights, she lies in bed thinking about how she failed again because her floors are filthy. She was exhausted for feeling this way but didn’t quite know what to do about it.
I asked her if she truly thought that when her kids grow up they would remember whether their floors were spotless in their childhood. Not a chance. However, they would remember their relationship with their mother and the feelings of warmth they received from their family. Now, let me be clear that I’m not advocating an unclean home by any means. What I am advocating for is a rational approach to housekeeping and the ability to forgive your self if things aren’t exactly perfect in every part of your life.
Perfection can be an exhausting habit to maintain over time. I know firsthand that it can control and severely limit your life. Yes, I’m writing this as a recovered perfectionist.
But somewhere along the way of gaining more self-awareness and understanding, I made a decision that perfection was not something positive to attain in my professional or personal life. Most of the time, I was able to control this dysfunctional approach to life, but once and awhile it would rear its ugly head again. For example, I remember when I was working on my Masters and I took a final in one of my hardest classes. I came home extremely upset because I was convinced that I received a bad grade on the exam. If I received a B or C on the exam, I would receive a B in the class. If I received a B in the class, I would no longer graduate with a perfect 4.0. If I didn’t graduate with a perfect 4.0, apparently, the world will have ended.
I emailed my professor and explained my concern over how bad I had done on the test. I was anxious, sad and quite a mess for the next 30 minutes. That’s exactly how long it took for my professor to write me back. I received a very long letter from him about his life and his struggles. I got halfway through this letter and stopped to question why any of this had to do with MY issue. Then I continued to read and understood the meaning. He was sharing how his struggles, and his grades had no significance to his current success in his life. His grades were just grades— that’s it.
Finally, I got to the end of the long letter and read the last line.
“Oh, by the way, if it still truly matters to you, you got an A on the exam, which means that you got an A in the class”.
I felt like a fool. In fact, the whole thing made me think about how perfection can be destructive. Was I really not a worthy person if I received a B?
That’s what striving for perfection really comes down to: your feelings of worthiness as a human being. As long as you meet all the expectations set by you, for you, you have a shot at being a worthy individual. The minute you fall short, you have failed the test of life.
I hope you reevaluate this expectation and change some thinking, as I did years ago. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.