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August 6, 2009

People who say that you can't change are dead wrong. Period.

I have been a perfectionist for most of my life, which has also led me into to some serious procrastination. For example, if I do not think I can complete a task perfectly -- the way I want to start it, approach it, finish it -- I will sometimes put it off for so long that I just fail at it altogether.

There are a million examples of this in my life: not writing an email because I want to take the time to write a good one (so I end up never responding, which is worse), not finishing a scarf because I keep thinking of all the ways it could be better (wouldn't a scarf without a needle stuck in it be better?), not eating a healthy lunch because if I didn't eat a healthy breakfast I have not been PERFECT all day, and so the day is shot (ridiculous). Part of me knows the better solution is to just eat a healthy meal the next time I sit down to eat, and part of me is a perfectionist even with failure. I've already screwed it up, why bother?

That is just the sort of mindfuck that leaves you mired in half-completed tasks your whole life and always looking for the perfect diet, the perfect weekend to clean the house, the perfect job, the perfect chapter, the perfect contact, the perfect thing to say, the perfect life.

I first started releasing my grasp on perfectionism when I went a teeny bit crazy during my divorce. It was very slow and mainly started with my clutter situation. I knew I couldn't perfectly declutter my life but I had to do something, any little thing, to just start. It was dire. (I have already talked about that here and here and probably elsewhere. It's been a big issue for me, letting go even while knowing I wasn't doing it JUST RIGHT.)

Then there were other things, like quitting smoking, which I finally had to do less-than-perfectly. I bargained with myself, made a deal that I could start smoking again in my 60s. And it's worked! But that is not how perfections quit, you know. I did it all wrong but I did it anyway.

Traveling was another imperfect perfect. I wanted to travel but didn't have anyone to go with so I just gave up my idea of the fantasy vacation and went alone and it was even better than the fantasy. And it keeps getting better the more I let go. Accepting that there will be new situations where I am not the expert, do not have control and do not know the language has made me a better traveler. And probably nicer to be around.

My whole life I needed to people-please, have people like me, approve of me, give praise not criticism. That went by the wayside one day in a Nashville airport when I realized I was crying in the terminal bar and couldn't take one more comment from another stranger ever. And then I just let it go. I accepted that I would never please everyone and was tired of trying and people would say what they wanted and it would be thiers, not mine, to carry. Then I drank a beer the size of my head and got a plane where I saw Charo. Enlightenment happens at the weirdest times. That was a big turning point for me, that stupid crazy day at the Nashville airport.

And now, with all the knitting I've been doing lately, I saw myself seize up with inertia at times where I got frustrated or scared or just irritated by not being sure that I was just perfect. And each time it was an opportunity to breathe, relax, and PLOD ONWARD ANYWAY. That's right -- move forward even if I am not perfect at it, even if I screw up, even if I have to undo it and start again. I keep reminding myself that no one is grading me, no one really cares about my selvedge edge, no one is living or dying by my gauge and if they are then they really need to pay more attention to their own business. Seriously.

So people change. It can really happen. It isn't fast or overnight or easy, but it is possible. I'm not all the way there yet but I'm pretty sure I will never be perfect at being an un-perfectionist. I will often have times that I want to stall because I am not being just so, just right, just perfect. And I hope I will see them for what they are -- cues that I am scared, frustrated, overwhelmed, afraid of not measuring up. Then I hope I will remind myself I don't have to measure up or be the best or please anyone but myself.

Just do your best. Your best really is good enough.

Posted by laurie at August 6, 2009 10:58 AM