As I awaken to another day of intense body pain, I sit and ponder. What is it all for?
Growing up, we learn what we “should” and “shouldn’t” do. For me, this wasn’t about gender or race, which I am eternally grateful for. It was about effort and ability. I think the missing piece was utility, which we will come back to later.
Effort is about putting forth your best attempt and energy to get the job done. Ability is about using your skills and capability to complete the task. The problem is, everyone has a different level of effort and different abilities. Some people have a core belief that they should put forth only what is required of them, which equates to the best attempt. Some people (like me) have a core belief that you should always put in beyond what is expected of you, and even then, there will be something you could’ve done better.
The funny thing is, both ways get the job done. People meeting the minimum in everything they do still meet the requirements and accomplish the task. However, it is more likely that those people have enough energy left over for joy and self-care.
People who meet the bare minimum both fascinate me and frustrate me. On one hand, I envy their full lives and ability to be successful in small ways and be satisfied. On the other hand, I think, how can they just do the minimum and then spend the rest of their time just enjoying life? How dare them and how brilliant of them!
Perfectionist gets the same job done, but with added misery and time-consuming over-reaching. By the time the task is complete, a perfectionist is already on to the next task, unless they are paralyzed in analyzing the previous task and all the things they could’ve done better. And there is never, ever joy or a sense of accomplishment in perfectionism. There is only more tasks, more goals, more self-doubt.
Utility is defined as the state of being useful, profitable, or beneficial. Common sense tells us that we should understand the utility of a commitment before agreeing to the task. However, for perfectionists, this step is missing. Or we have unrealistic expectations of utility. Usually, perfectionist take on a task because they think it will be that one thing that finally makes them feel important, get recognition, or feel accomplished. The problem is that good feeling never comes and the recognition is ignored. The battle and pain are worn as a badge of honor instead of being seen as for what they are, which is a slow painful death of the body and soul.
The reality is, the perfectionist is trying to prove something. Prove that they are something, such as competent. Prove that they aren’t something, such as the mistakes they made in their past. They are often trying to quiet the voices and overwhelming thoughts. The voices that say they are never enough and the overwhelming thoughts of all the things they have to get done. Or the thoughts of their past, which are entirely too painful to examine. So, we choose what is thought of an easier path, although just as painful. We never stop moving or achieving.
The other side of perfectionism is loneliness and isolation. The very thing we try to avoid, pain, is the absolute and inevitable “prize” of perfectionism.
Some perfectionist can sell themselves and have many who love us, many who spend their years begging and longing to be our priority. And then some perfectionist have few friends, only surface relationships, yet still long for connection. Usually the connections are based in what we can do for someone, not in who we truly are underneath that hard shell of an exterior.
Perfectionism and misery are the best of friends. People are first impressed by perfectionist like me. However, that impression evaporates into large pools of frustration. People try to help us by making our life easier and taking over tasks for us, but they can never do them good enough, and then we just put something else in that time slot. Our partners try to set up just the perfect situation so that we can detach and finally absorb their love, only for us to answer an email, find a household task to do, or just plain ignore them because we are so exhausted.
Then sets in the emotions for not being enough somewhere because we were trying to be too much everywhere else. Then, we get the physical and emotional pain for letting someone down. Trying so hard not to let anyone down, all the while letting everyone down because we set up impossible expectations of ourselves.
The suggestions from loved ones are abundant, but at the end of the day, that badge of honor is strong and proud. And usually, there is a big ball of resentment and a feeling of being misunderstood for all those involved.
Somehow, we have to learn how to get off the hamster wheel. Hamsters who stay on a wheel eventually die of a heart attack. And individuals who remain perfectionist do too. So, I wonder – can we use our perfectionism to correct itself? Can we become obsessed with self-care and keeping a tight schedule of activities that fill our proverbial bucket? Or are we doomed to a life of misery and pain…