Friday, April 25, 2014

Lessons from...a (semi)-Reformed Perfectionist

By: Guest blogger, Mandy Higgins

When I volunteered to write a post for Liza’s lessons feature, it seemed appropriate to discuss my penchant for perfection and the lessons I learned in, trying at least, to let it go. But, because I don’t believe you ever truly get over being a perfectionist, I immediately began to panic as I wracked my brain for just the right anecdote to make my point, and how to structure the post to make the most effective statement, and where to write it, and for how long, and what would happen if I chose the wrong words and…  You see, the pursuit of perfection, like anxiety, is a rabbit hole of doom. It leads you in all kinds of directions you didn’t know were even available when you began.  Luckily, since I’m semi-reformed and all, I can pull back the throttle a bit, open the shades, and stories emerge. So, readers, friends, and fellow Pillow Book admirers, I present to you an anecdote and a few extra “lessons” on semi-reformed perfection.

           In December, on the same day my doctoral degree was conferred, my husband and I closed on our second (and potentially forever) home in Lexington. It’s a 1950s rambling ranch with a small yard and a ton of space. We live in a cute, transitioning neighborhood close to all the things and some of the people we love in the city. However, we bought our house in the midst of the worst winter in recent memory. Here’s my first piece of advice: don’t buy a home in the winter. Just, wait til March. Why, you ask? Well here’s the thing—yes, you’re likely to get a better deal, BUT, but, you have no idea what your yard looks like when it’s covered in snow and the trees are dormant, and there’s no blooming plants. Fast forward to March—winter’s ice and snow began to thaw, revealing our new yard full of leaves, moss, and ivy. Those trees that were bare when we bought the place four months ago have begun to bloom and the future raking is already occupying my mind. You’re probably wondering how all of this relates to perfection. Very simply, I’ll never have a perfect, manicured, green, leaf free yard. We could rake every day, meticulously mow, seed, sod, water, and weed eat, and still, our yard will have leaves. The magnolia that was the selling point for us—oh, it drops leaves on a regular basis.

And the ivy—dormant in the winter, but in full force these days, the ivy is proof that my perfectionist tendencies are under repair. I spent most of Sunday pulling up ivy in a small patch along the side of our driveway.  It’s not even my ivy! Instead, it has burrowed under a fence and taken up refuge from the neighbor’s yard.  Perfectionist Mandy would have not even begun the project of removing the ivy. I’ll never get rid of it all, I’d tell myself, so why even start? It’ll just keep coming back, you’ll never get it right, so why try? But instead of giving in to my base assumptions, I spent the afternoon pulling and pruning, cutting and cursing through the ivy. The bed is mostly free; a few shoots are still visible between the fence posts and the root system is still intact in a few places, which means in a month or so, I’ll be back at it—attacking the ivy and my desire for perfection at the same time.  

The ivy is a visible marker of my semi-reformed status. Some of it remains, but a lot of it is gone (at least from that particular part of the yard). It’s proof that even when not done perfectly, effort makes a difference.

A few other lessons for you from my semi-reformed world:
·         Being a perfectionist stops you from trying new things. When you’re so focused on doing something perfectly the first time, you don’t give yourself the opportunity to fail, and so you don’t give yourself the opportunity to do something different.
·         Being a perfectionist steals joy. When your life is dominated by a plan, by the desire to have everything just right, and by the need to make sure no one sees a mistake or a misstep, it’s almost impossible to be happy. Things aren’t always perfect. Sometimes the flies get in the punch, or the words come out of your mouth wrong, or the timing isn’t right. 
·         Perfection is the mask that keeps us from knowing ourselves and others. We use it to hide our insecurities and to control our fears. We use it to deny others access to our true, often vulnerable self, and to rewrite our identity in terms that are comfortable. 

I haven’t fully let go of my perfectionist tendencies, but I’ve learned that there is beauty, and love, and magic in imperfection. Life doesn’t usually unfold on the path and along the plan that us semi-reformed perfectionists seek, and I’m learning that plans and paths are meant to meander.  Thus, I am semi-reformed.  I still seek perfection but I am no longer defined by it. I embrace, reluctantly at times, the chance to fail and I relish in the imperfect ways we all try to get through the day.

But, the perfectionist in me is always sitting dormant, waiting for the perfect opportunity to rear its ugly little head—don’t tell her I’ve got a book proposal, anthology chapter, and conference paper to write…she’ll be relentless.

No comments:

Post a Comment