Getting Started and Perfectionism

So are you a perfectionist?
If you were to ask me where I fall on a perfectionism spectrum, I would say that I am not a perfectionist. I love getting projects started. I will start a different one in every nook and cranny in my house. I run with passion and burn out about the time it doesn’t look like my original plan. Sometimes I hit publish anyway and marvel in what came to be. Sometimes I trash it and count it as a creative process, not a means to any specific end. I find it easy to define what others might consider failures”. I call them learning experiences. I very rarely consider myself unworthy to speak to people. Quite the contrary, I speak out of turn and assume I have equal authority to most.
What do you tend to push off the most and why?
If I had to pick a time when I would have the hardest time getting started, it would be on a project for which I have no passion. I sit in my bed on a Sunday morning, propped up by pillows and smelling my steaming coffee. Across the room from me are trash bags half filled with clothes, assigned to go to goodwill or the garage. There are 3 loads of laundry waiting for sorting, folding and putting away. For this project, my passion is dwindling. The hope of a clutter free room is still there, but a glimmer. It is very easy for me to put this off and not “get started” each new day.
How long can you push an idea to the side?
Often, getting started is not by choice. You have an idea. Have you read What to Do with an idea? (spoiler alert: you change the world.) The illustrations are captivating. The book is about the concept of ideas being born outside of our control and that they often take on a life of their own. I follow a similar pattern when I am shopping. I don’t fall in love with everything. Very few things. So I look and I wait. I know the feeling I am waiting for. You could say it is similar with the generation of teenagers I love working with. As they would say, “I see it. I feel it. I catch feelings.” It’s like the object has a virus and I am going to catch it. Once I have it, it does not matter the price. I would sell every single other item of clothing I have to have that one item that I am in love with. It is like I found myself.
Do you think you achieve perfection in your work?
Now, if perfectionism means that I never think my creation is perfect, I would agree one hundred perfect. I very rarely like what I paint. I do not prefer the sound of my own voice on recording. I can’t look at my work unbiased. I hear artists and creators talking about working at something until it is perfect. If that was my goal I would never finish anything. I love painting with acrylic paint, which dries fast. It goes on with a very opaque color and will cover completely whatever layer of paint is underneath it. This means that you can just erase all of your work with a layer of white paint. I remember a painting I worked on in high school of a ballerina. I must have repainted her skin tone 20 times! I accepted that it was not going to become what I had in my mind’s eye. So you could say that I am a perfectionist if perfectionists believe perfection is unattainable. My typical performance is about 80% perfect and I am satisfied with that.
To what do you credit your perfectionism to?
I was tested gifted as a kindergartener. I was not a math superstar or good at spelling. I cheated on a spelling test in 2nd grade. I must have given up once I exhausted all options outside of studying. I never was one for extended exertion of effort. What can I do in an efficient amount of time? What can I do with little effort? That will be recognizable (read: verbal affirmation) and decent? Also, it had to matter. To me, I could read the word even if I couldn’t spell it. And that’s what dictionaries were for. Perfectionism can look like laziness. It can look chaotic and feel overwhelming. It can feel like depression- when everything you look at does not hit the mark. You look around you and say, “no. no. no!”
Where do I see perfectionism in my work with clients?
In therapy, a problem is not a problem until it is causing disruption in the life of the client. Perfectionism may not be a bad thing at all. For a high achieving person who is in a very high position with work and runs a tight ship at home it is not problematic.
I see perfectionism as a problem that my college age clients tell me about. They are struggling with large assignments or projects. They are trying to envision in their mind before ever putting pen to paper. Then when they feel the immense pressure of the assignment coming due. They will try to execute their perfect vision. A road bump or blemish will bring all progress to a halt and only finish half of the project in time for turning it in. Perfectionism could disable them from turning in what they have for half credit. They feel something is wrong with them and that they cannot do anything at all. The reality is they are living in an unrealistic dichotomy. The only options are perfect or none at all. There is a middle ground to explore where it is not perfect, but not nothing.
This can be very deep work. Feeling stuck in this dialectical thinking can be part of your subconscious thinking. You judge yourself as worthless. You call yourself names like “lazy” or “not good enough” before you even realize that your thoughts have done it. You are left with a feeling of being completely immobilized. This keeps you from getting started.
All of this is very anxiety producing. The treatment for anxiety is relaxation. The goal is to be more in the present moment. You are present in the moment with no judgement of your worth. You are breathing, alive and you have the ability to create something without judging it. Then you work at remaining relaxed. You notice your thought pattern and your tendency to critique your work as you go. You allow for more flow and less criticism. Then, once you have an ample amount of creation in your hand, you can decide what is worth keeping. Mantras are helpful. A mantra is a phrase that you can commit to memory and repeat to keep your mindset on track.
Examples:
I’m okay,
I am going to be okay,
keep moving,
try something new,
take a chance,
you have to make mistakes to learn or grow,
stay positive,
you can do hard things,
it doesn’t have to be perfect,
you matter.
Matras can be meditative. Chanting, “YES” while on a long nature walk is a revealing exercise. Notice the imperfections in nature, the asymmetry, the beauty in a dying tree or the colors in a dried flower.
If you see me stuck/frozen in perfectionism what would you say to me? Can you give me a pep talk?
Knowing you, you have a lot on your plate and you like to bring quality food to the table. I would first want to walk through with you what you have on your plate and how you are feeling about it. Are these things that are going to be important that you’ve done when you’re 80 yo? Is it time to wait or time to pursue the idea? Is it something that needs to be perfect or are you making it a bigger deal that it needs to be? Your brain knows SO MANY THINGS! You are a wealth of knowledge. Give the people some of that, don’t hold it for yourself. But ask God, too. Who needs your time and energy right now? Are you sitting on the idea because you are reserving your energy ? Or because you are afraid that you are not going to be good? One is wise and one is sinful. Pride keeps you from giving away what you know until it is shiny and looking perfect. Wisdom keeps you from giving away what you need for the mission you are on from God. Let’s assume it is pride. Then I would say, girl, you are GOLD. Share the wealth. People need to hear what you have to say. People are starving for a guide in their marriages, relationships, parenting and adulting. You abide in Christ and he produces the fruit. It is perfect when it leaves your lips and falls on the ears or eyes of whoever is absorbing it is. (I just tried to spell absorbing with an “O”. Who knew? Not me. )

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