I’ll admit it: I’m a perfectionist. Yet I’m also well aware of the damage that perfectionism inflicts on the psyche, let alone self-confidence. Holding yourself to too high a standard — as I came to realize — not only makes life insufferable, but inhibits decision-making, forward momentum and, um, fun.
I only recently came clean. I had this crazy idea I’d outgrown it, like my itchy, old school uniform or a penchant for saying “like” (which I dropped long ago, thank God). For years, I didn’t own an iron, and let wrinkles soften in the shower. I let things slide: typos, dishes, laundry. Does it look like a perfectionist lives in this apartment? I don’t think so. Would a perfectionist send a text with “sushi” misspelled? No way. I told myself that I was far more spontaneous and carefree than I’d formerly believed I was.
Except, I wasn’t.
I'd simply been looking at the wrong evidence. Perfectionism wasn't manifesting itself in what I was doing (say, organizing shelves or creating other visual, tactile versions of “perfect”), but what I wasn't doing.
In my 20s, my perfectionism was full-on dysfunctional. I didn’t apply for a job senior year of college or even after graduation. I had straight A’s, was Phi Beta Kappa, and won a writing scholarship, and yet simply couldn’t imagine that I qualified for any job. So I temped miserably for more than a year, afraid I’d get myself into a role I couldn’t handle. I coasted along in a depressed, weepy fog for months on end. When my mother would pick up the phone, I just sobbed into it.
Still, I didn’t believe I had a problem. Because I’d known “real” perfectionists, like a girl I’ll call Kelly who’d lived down the hall in college. Her room was perfectly ordered, as was her (very busy) social calendar, and she worked out every day at 7am without fail (even weekends). I thought, why can’t I be like Kelly? And then Kelly started losing more and more weight and raising eyebrows in the dorm. Kelly had perfected herself into an eating disorder.