Perfectionism is a way of life for some. Personally, if I’m having brain surgery, you can bet I want a surgeon who doesn’t perform under the work ethic of "ok, that’s ‘good enough!’" He or she had better be attentive to each and every meticulous detail, as far as I’m concerned! Perhaps a bit less life and death, yet in many ways equally important, are other professions where I want someone who is detail oriented … my accountant, lawyer, or the mechanic who services the planes I fly on, to name but a few.
Yet, is there a down side to living in this particular box? Perhaps for those actually stuck in the box of perfectionism, the cost doesn’t seem obvious. However, for the significant others in the lives of these seemingly faultless people, the cost may take a huge toll.
It all comes down to expectations. Perfectionism frequently originates when a child lives in an environment of constant criticism and unrealistic expectations. To avoid the pain of being chastised, the child learns to go overboard in making sure that all is perfect. As this behavior might help minimize punishment or criticism, which subtly chips away at self-esteem. The more perfect the performance, the better the odds, pain might be avoided. By taking all measures to avoid mistakes, they soon learn the pattern of perfectionism at the same time that they oftentimes learn to be motivated by fear of failure, rather than be driven by their successes.
As with all the "boxes" I talk about, this one has its place. But what happens when it truly gets out of control? For example, a divorced, male friend of mine knows he is extremely perfectionistic. His friends tease him about his behaviors, and he takes their jokes in stride. For one thing, they chide him because each morning he vacuums his carpet. (He claims it only takes him six minutes.) Yet, why does he feel obligated to do this daily? Obviously because he likes things clean, but also because he tells me that he loves to see the lines left by the vacuum cleaner! Ok, so this may seem a little unusual, but as long as he isn’t hurting anyone, what’s the problem? Well, he also admitted to me recently that he used to yell at his young daughter for walking on the carpet and messing up the lines! At that point, his box has gone beyond that of affecting just him, and has branched out to family members who may be taking hits upon their own developing self-esteem for exhibiting perfectly normal behavior.
Fortunately, in his case, he recognizes this box and has learned how to take it on as "his" issue and not put his expectations upon everyone else. He and his daughter now joke about his vacuuming exploits, and she takes special glee in making "snow angels" in the carpet, to purposefully destroy the carpet lines! They can laugh together about his need to feel neat and that, my friends, is the key.
Learning to accept each other’s behaviors as part of who we are is paramount in good communications, no matter who we are. At the same time, recognizing when your boxes are confining or inhibiting you from living your life to the fullest is key in you evolving into the most magnificent person you can possibly become and allows you to better enjoy other people in your life as well.
Is living in the box of perfectionism working for or against you? Ask yourself some of these questions to find out…
* Do you short yourself on sleep staying up all hours to check and recheck your work?
* Do you get frustrated with the other people who don’t do things "your way?"
* Do you make a big deal about things that other people seem to think are small things?
* Do you feel tense and restless if things aren’t perfect in your home or work environment at all times?
* Do you feel like you never have enough time to have fun because you’re always too busy with other stuff you "have to do?" (That six minutes per day vacuuming adds up to 3 hours per month or 36 hours per year. What could you and your child do that would be wonderfully memorable and more fun with the extra time you’d free up if you didn’t feel compelled to vacuum six minutes each day?)
Remember that all of our boxes can work for us or against us. If you are on a lifelong quest for self improvement, ask someone you trust to help you determine if your perfectionistic box is working for or against you. Remember, there’s a place for all of us and all of our boxes. Balance is the key!
Mary Jo Fay facilitates a seminar called "Living Out of the Boxx," in Cozumel, Mexico each month. She can be reached www.outoftheboxx.com.