The Dirty Little Secret Behind “Perfectionism”
Updated: Dec 4, 2019
Julie takes a few moments to finish putting on her lipstick. It is 7:05 am, and the kids have to be in the car and heading to school in 10 minutes. She chose a cute little green outfit today for the drive to the school, and everything is perfectly on schedule with getting everyone out the door, thanks to her careful supervision. Cleaning up after breakfast she continues to ride herd, finally shepherding everyone out right on time. As she loads the children, she realizes that, once again, the car is looking dusty. “The road construction nearby is making such a mess,” she grouses, just one more stop today before meeting with her girlfriends for lunch. Starting the car, she checks her hair in the rearview mirror before pulling out of the driveway. Perfect house, clean car, quiet children….James will be so impressed!
James looks over his code for the fifth time before finally submitting it and finishing up his workday. Everyone else is long gone, but he knows everyone else hasn’t taken the care he has to be sure his work input is dead on. The variables names are nailed, his commenting is thorough and flawless, bug free, even the colors are coordinated into a pleasing whole. No one makes more elegant code, and he often gets complemented on it. Secretly, he thinks the others are jealous, and he’s sure that’s why he is always overlooked for promotions. Rather than screwing around with the newer languages and platforms like the others, he sticks to what he knows best, and no one does it better. Some day, he’ll be properly appreciated. Speaking of appreciation, he realizes that he has to go home now and face Julie. She’ll be mad at him again for being late, he’s sure. She can’t know the effort he puts into being the perfect employee. Being the perfect employee is a necessary part of being the perfect husband, can’t she see that? No matter, there is always some World of Warcraft he can knock out if she’s in a bad mood. Those guys won’t stand a chance tonight with the perfect strategy he has developed…
These fictionalized scenarios with fictional names are taken from very real situations. Once you look beneath the surface, you find dissatisfaction, antidepressants, alcoholism, and lack of meaningful connections. What you’ll also find is the statement “I guess I’m just a perfectionist.”
A perfectionist. Doesn’t that sound wonderful? Striving for perfection – what could be wrong with that, right? Perfect life, perfect home, perfect children, perfect spouse.
Perfect, perfect, perfect…but the dirty little secret is that the word “Perfect” is code for “Not Enough.” A life that is not enough, a home that is not enough, children who are never enough, and a spouse who will never be enough. But by far what is truly never enough is the self.
Calling it perfectionism sounds so much nicer.
But calling it perfectionism lets the reality hide behind a façade. If she works a little harder, cleans a little deeper, controls her children a little more effectively, changes her man a little more, it will FINALLY be enough. It will finally be perfect.
Except it won’t.
This kind of “perfection” ALWAYS leaves room for a little more improvement. One more adjustment; One more floor cleaning with a more powerful disinfectant; One more lecture to straighten out a child; One more clever line of code; One more perfectly convincing argument; One more request to prove another’s love. “Perfectionism” entails infinite improvement, and is, by definition, impossible to attain.
Something that is impossible to attain, is something that is never enough.
The deep, dark source of perfectionism is a deep, dark place in the self that believes, even knows, that it is never enough. All the controlling, manipulating and success in the world will never fill it, and the tranquilizers and addictions only serve to deaden one’s awareness to this place of horror.
“Perfection” is the belief and “perfectionism” is the religion based on that belief.
Too many people spend too much energy for far too long on trying to force “perfection” on a world that is already perfect. The perfect imperfection we live in exists to serve as our mirror, to direct us inside and heal and grow, and release that which we are not. We can never succeed in making ourselves “enough” through the impossible task of making everyone and everything else “perfect.”
We, too, are already perfect. We’ve just forgotten. We’ve lost sight of it because of all the garbage that is piled up, in the way. All the scripts, beliefs, walls and masks, so many of which exist solely to deal with the pain and trauma we experienced in the past. Children don’t believe they are imperfect until they are taught this nasty lie.
If you seek perfection, redefine that word. Find perfection in the love you have for yourself. Find it in your love and acceptance of others. Find it in the joy of being alive in the here and now, of having your agency to create your life day-by-day, moment-by-moment. Find it in the delighted laugh of a child and the warm sun on your skin. Find it by freeing anything – Any Thing – that interferes with your ability to experience the perfect world around you. Transform that drive for proving that you are “enough” into a drive for just being enough with every breath you take.
That is perfection.