Hi. I’m Dan and I’m a recovering perfectionist.
My gag reflex kicked in big time; I was surly, curly-lipped with disgust and ready to rip it to shreds. No, not the reflex. Stay with me.
Practicing perfectionists don’t use damaged things.
- ‘Clean’ towel have a smudge on it? Spray some Zout on it and throw it in the wash.
- Jeans you bought on sale wind up sewed so they hang crooked? Never again wear them.
- Dish you just prepared not look like you wanted? Nope. Take it someone who’s hungry and has more sense.
- Car’s finish have a smudge? Stop and re-polish the whole thing and get there late.
- ‘Runner’ whiskers that escaped your razor this morning? Stop what you’re doing and go back over that quarter-inch patch (this makes 5 times) again until smooth as little tyke butt.
- Sitting over breakfast in IHOP and suddenly realize you wore contrasting colors? Forgot to (re)comb your hair? Notice your fingernails are a tad too long? Everyone’s staring at me. Uncomfortable! Got to get out of— that table’s not aligned with those around it. Server forgot to put tableware in the next booth . . .
- Floor dirty? Scrub it again. You know it’s stained and scratched and won’t clean up. Doesn’t matter. You try. Again. Neverending issue that drives you sane.
- Blade of grass dared to duck the trimmer? Go mow again. After all, it’s been two days, right?
This list for a true perfectionist is endless. There was always something I could find fault with. Something sub-par, less than the best. I was unyielding in my constant self-criticism. Every situation drew instant and unfailing critique.
I’m not sure where my hypercritical way of looking at life skidded to a rubber-smoking halt. God had something to do with it. If you know me and hold your breath whenever something you know grates little shards off my perfectionistic side and I don’t staple, fold or mutilate? Blame God. He’s messed me up. At times I don’t know me. I’m a work in progress, daily learning new ways to respond to the same things that used to unhinge me and keep me unproductive.
I was tired last night, and carelessly tossed the steno pads on top of one another. This morning as I picked up the one I’d made a few preliminary notes on, I saw a crease in the two pages beneath it – the ones I’d need to use. Twice I reached out to use them anyway. That bullying lion Perfectionism stalked back and forth in my mind and spirit, roaring, “NO! THEY’RE DAMAGED GOODS! USELESS! TEAR THEM OUT AND THROW THEM AWAY! IT’LL BE PERFECT OR NOTHING!”
Hesitating, I tried again to— “I SAID NO!!!”
It is fortunate that God has been patiently counseling me through His Grace that I no longer have to put up with Perfectionism’s yammering. Whispering a prayer of thanks, I took a couple of deep breaths and calmly reached for the pad. Smoothing and back-bending the pages, I laid it down, picked up my pen and got to work. Sure, I could still see the creases. Yet they were faint and I soon forgot they’d ever been an issue. Yeah. There’s a lesson in there.
Remember what Perfectionism said? I have dealt with rejection issues since childhood, and for years I did what I’d learned was the safest way to deflect and distract: be polite, offer my position or turn or seat to someone else, and quietly withdraw. It was what worked and what I knew. It was also hideously unfulfilling and only made me loathe myself more.
This was a new thing, though. As I chose to listen to Recovery instead of Perfectionism, things began to change. I began to change.
Recovery said God never tore me out or threw me away. He saw value in me! He accepted me!
It is interesting to me how often I encounter writers who are also perfectionists. One of them is my new sister in art, Anne Lamott. Reading after her recently I found some wonderful insights I include here . . .
“We found in books the divine plop, the joy of settling down deeply into something, worlds and realities greater than our own troubled minds…. I also learned that you didn’t come into this world as a perfectionist…. We are raised to be bright and shiny, but there is meaning in the acceptance of our dusky and dappled side, and also defiance…. There can be meaning without having things make sense.” – Anne Lamott, Stitches
I am indebted to persons like her who are authentic and willing to open cans from the opposite end. They’re helping me do the same thing. As I write, I too connect with brilliant, bruised, awkward minds and hearts. They each have ample scar tissue and signs of denim life experience, each struggling to be real. They recognize the foolishness of using up their tickets riding FEAR again and again.
Walk with me among these growing rows of words we share. This is now my passion and that for which God preserved my life.
“I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations… At first I didn’t think of it as a gift and begged God to remove it…and then he told me, ‘My grace is enough, it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness.’
“I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift.” (from 2 Corinthians 12)
I love you and I believe in you.
Hold on. As I’m editing and adding pictures, I have a powerful instinct to add this line for a reader who’s needing this right now. I always pay attention and am obedient when this happens. Dear friend, this is for you: No matter the issues involved, God never tore you out and threw you away. People do it without considering the consequences, even thinking they’re acting in God’s behalf–but God? Never. Freely forgive, while understanding sometimes the damage is too desperate. Allow Him to lead you in the healing process. Focus not on what’s been, but on what God has lined up for you on the path ahead. Perfection is His. Progress is yours.
Oh. And the creased pages? They’re what I used to write the drafts of this post. It felt good. It felt free. I think I’m going to like this perfect imperfection thing.
© D. Dean Boone, June 2016