Lessons From a Recovering Perfectionist

“Good enough is good enough. Perfect will make you a big fat mess every time.” ― Rebecca Wells, The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder 

If there was a 12-step program for perfectionists, I would have been the originator and president. My brain is just hard-wired for perfectionist behavior and thought processes. Luckily, I deliberately make choices to the contrary, and here’s why:

When we strive for perfection, we always fall short.We might perfectly execute a certain task, but a critical eye will notice the room for improvement elsewhere. In the cost-benefit analysis of this method of thinking, the idea of doing a good enough job is far outweighed by any attempt at perfection.

What do we risk when we attempt perfection?  The easiest answer to that question is “certain failure.” We will never be perfect, the things we do will never be perfect, and we will never perfect our roles as parents, co-workers, clinicians, and friends. We will always fall short. Thus begins the downward spiral of negative thinking, where we outline our mistakes, promises of “next time” and “I failed” and “I’m not a good _____.”  Worse yet, we may not even try next time. We risk disappointment in ourselves, lower self-esteem, and added stress. We risk losing touch with ourselves. We risk launching ourselves on a slippery slope of distorted thinking.

The perfectionist sees the deficit instead of the effort and accomplishment. The perfectionist has overwhelming anxiety of not being perfect and thereby not being any good at all. This is much different from seeing our strengths and working from them. This is where things are either black or white- either we’re perfect or we’re no good. If we buy into this process, we don’t even stand a chance at fulfilling our desires and finding happiness. We will always fall short with this method of thinking, and we also risk convincing others that we’re right.

How about we try to see ourselves as good enough? Donald Winnicott, pediatrician and psychoanalyst, coined this term in his research with mothers and infants. The “good enough” are the parents who meet their babies’ needs more often than not, allow them to feel in control of their environment, and remain cognizant of their abilities while maintaining safety. Winnicott recognized we don’t need to be perfect to raise healthy, well adjusted children. We simply need to be good enough. We will never be perfect, so let’s aim for trying as hard as we can, keeping in mind that we will mess up once in a while. That’s not only okay; it’s human.

This is where I’ll ask you to add five plus two, which I’m sure you can do before finishing this sentence. Now, think of ten minus three. Instead of seeing yourself as a “less than” equation, try adding up your good qualities and efforts. You will arrive at the preferred, true result-how very good enough you are. Think of your five plus two. Consciously and deliberately choose your five plus two. There is cause for celebration in our imperfections, if only we allow it.

I’ve done the cost-benefit analysis, and I promise it’s worth it.  

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