Photo Friday: This is What Perfectionism Looks Like

On the surface, it may seem counter-intuitive for a perfectionist’s office to look like a cyclone hit it. But those of you who have the perfectionism affliction, or love someone who does, see the truth.

Am I comfortable with this picture? No. Do I enjoy working in this environment? No. While a normal person might think, “just spend a few minutes cleaning this up,” I know it would take hours or even days (hours and days I don’t have at work) to clean and organize it the right way. To do anything less is not comfortable, so it will just have to wait until I can do it right.

I’m a perfectionist; I’m hardwired to do shit the tediously inefficient but right way.

I think I would have skewed this way no matter what, but my first grade teacher didn’t help. She split my classroom into the “good side” and the “bad side” and placed me on the bad side because I’d forgotten to turn in a permission slip. Mistakes, no matter how small, would be noticed, would be punished. Got it, thanks!

This experience lodged itself into my amygdala, where it still drives me toward a goal I can’t reach. When I was little, my thoughts on perfection were simple, “if I stop making mistakes, people will like me more.” I even had a code word, “NOW,” that I’d say to myself as a pep talk to be perfect from that point forward. Until the next time I made a mistake, of course. These days, “NOW” has been replaced by exhausting post mortems on what I could have done differently to avoid a mistake and often an internal berating for not knowing this already.

I’m sick of it and I’m trying to recover from perfectionism. I’ve realized there’s so much I want to do. I just don’t have time to do everything I’m interested in doing as well as my brain tells me I have to do it.

But letting the perfectionism go has been hard, for at least two reasons:

1. My brain doesn’t seem to have the capacity for the kind of flexible thinking needed to create shortcuts.

2. Even if by some miracle, I think of a shortcut or someone offers me a different solution to a task, I don’t feel comfortable implementing it. It feels half-assed to me.

I didn’t even realize how crazy my methods seemed until the running shoes conversation. You see, a few weeks ago my knees started feeling wonky and I wondered if it might be time to buy new running shoes. I thought nothing of my process until I talked to a normal person about it. I mentioned how I needed to add up the mileage I’d run on my current pair of shoes, but before I could do the calculation I had to enter the back log of data from my Garmin GPS watch into my workout log spreadsheet.

I’ll never forget the look that passed across the normal person’s face.

Her: “How long will entering all that data take you?”

Me: “I’m not sure…probably two to three hours at least.”

Her: “Uh, what would be the harm in just buying new shoes without doing all that data entry?”

This suggestion blew my mind.

Today I reached two personal milestones. I achieved a goal I’ve had for over two years; to get my work email inbox of almost 1,600 emails back to zero. And, perhaps more importantly, I did it by implementing a shortcut that my perfectionist brain had previously convinced me was “cheating. ”

I moved everything older than 2012 into a separate archive folder labeled “unsorted.” If I get around to culling that great, if not, c’est la vie. I had told myself I needed to wait until I had time to cull 1,600 emails. But that was going to be never. After removing the old emails, I culled the 404 emails left in my inbox to zero in a few hours. Yea!

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20 Responses to “Photo Friday: This is What Perfectionism Looks Like”

  1. Susi
    Friday, March 9, 2012 at 1:46 pm #

    It sounds to me like that bad teacher created a perfectionist. When you’re taught as a kid that you’re “bad” in some way you’ll struggle your entire life to be good enough. I’m the same, but in my case it was the other kids, not the teacher.

    • logyexpress
      Sunday, March 11, 2012 at 8:37 pm #

      Thanks, Susi. I had other kids helping too, eventually…

  2. Chaotically Yours
    Friday, March 9, 2012 at 1:55 pm #

    “I’m sick of it and I’m trying to recover from perfectionism. I’ve realized there’s so much I want to do. I just don’t have time to do everything I’m interested in doing as well as my brain tells me I have to do it.”

    Oh, bingo.

    I’m at constant war with myself over things not being just right. In day to day things, I can usually beat my inner critic into submission. It’s my fiction writing where she’s particularly vicious and that’s where I suffer the most – it’ll take me months to finish a short story, even if I have the entire thing plotted out in my head. Why? Because the *rough* draft isn’t coming out exactly as I’d envisioned.

    I think I’m winning more battles lately, but they’re hard fought and not getting any easier.

    • logyexpress
      Sunday, March 11, 2012 at 8:39 pm #

      Oh yeah, don’t get me started on how long it takes me to write something. It always sounds so good in my head, and then loses something in the translation.

  3. Catherine
    Friday, March 9, 2012 at 7:27 pm #

    You need to load up everything in your office, take it to that horrible teacher’s house and dump it on her porch. What kind of teacher sorts children? That makes me sad and mad but congrats on the inbox sorting!

    Visiting from the Not a Mommy blog

    • logyexpress
      Sunday, March 11, 2012 at 8:42 pm #

      Hi Catherine! Thanks for the laugh. Yeah, Miss Griswold was bat-shit crazy. I hate to blame stuff on other people, but in this case it’s her fault! Hopefully I can keep up with inbox zero-ing. I’m not quite sure what to do with the crap on my desks.

  4. Pish Posh
    Friday, March 9, 2012 at 8:57 pm #

    Whoa!! That is a terrible teacher!! Just awful!!

    I have some friends I adore with perfectionism. I just figure out “the rules” for how things have to go for them to feel comfortable and try to stick by them. For example, one friend has to have things a certain way, needs certain things to happen, and then she’s okay. She always loved coming to my house because she felt she could relax. I’m way more relaxed about things. She could put her feet up, spill her drink, settle into the couch, and just be whatever.

    On the other hand I liked her house because everything was SO CLEAN and so organized – it soothed me to have things in order like that. I’m not a slob or a hugely messy person – although you would probably think I am 😉 but I’m not a perfectionist. However, I long long long long to be one in some ways because I wish my car was spotless, my house was spotless, my office was spotless, etc. I wish I was that clean and organized. I just don’t have the energy :)

    Thanks for sharing this and joining up! Keep working on this stuff – I love that you shared it!!

    You know if you suffer from anxiety, this may be a way of coping. I clean and organize when I get anxious, and I get anxious when things start piling up. But all of us have a secret room or area of chaos – metaphorically or literally. All of us :)

    • logyexpress
      Sunday, March 11, 2012 at 8:48 pm #

      I think part of my problem is that I like “big” tasks, but hate little, maintenance tasks. So it was very satisfying to go from 1,600 emails to zero. But now the real test is whether I can keep it up.

      It’s the same with cleaning–I feel satisfaction doing something big like cleaning out and reorganizing the pantry, especially since it will look nice for awhile. But I hate doing the dishes or laundry, since that shit needs to get done again the next day/week. Annoying!

  5. TransformedNonconformist
    Friday, March 9, 2012 at 9:46 pm #

    It is amazing how we torture ourselves, are completely aware that we are doing and still feel powerless to stop it. Congratulations on taking a step forward.

    • logyexpress
      Sunday, March 11, 2012 at 8:52 pm #

      Thanks. You get it. Sometimes when I see the clock after a session of polishing something that was probably already “good enough,” I feel such loss. Time is so valuable, I have to learn to recognize and accept “good enough” more often.

      • Jen
        Sunday, August 11, 2013 at 1:31 am #

        I identify with your story. I feel much the same way. My husband has a saying that makes me feel a bit better. He used to work at a greasy spoon where he made food for people. The food didn’t have to be perfect. I just had to be “good enough for ’em.” So when I freak out about things not being perfect, he just reminds me that it’s “good enough for ’em.”

        • Jen
          Sunday, August 11, 2013 at 1:33 am #

          *It* not I

  6. cinquecentoproject
    Saturday, March 10, 2012 at 10:11 am #

    Whoo hoo!!! That must feel great!

    I’ve been working to have a better handle on my email since late May – just realize that no matter how much the word “abnegate” makes me feel powerful when it arrives as the “word-of-the-day” – that doesn’t mean I need to keep it in my inbox for 30 years. Just an example.

    It’s NOT cheating, either – whose rules are you playing by? YOURS. And, the most powerful rule of all is that the rule-maker can modify, change, or eliminate rules at will. You are in total control!

    • logyexpress
      Sunday, March 11, 2012 at 8:58 pm #

      Abnegate, eh? Yeah, leaving “stuff I want to remember” in the inbox is a huge part of my problem too.

      It felt really good to finally clear it out. A little bewildering too actually. I lost track of the last few emails, so when I hit delete on the last one, I thought I had more. At first when I saw the empty inbox, I thought there was a problem with my computer.

      Now I have to tackle my home inbox…and my blog-related inbox. I’ll just keep telling myself, “I’m in total control.” Gulp.

  7. TriGirl
    Saturday, March 10, 2012 at 4:19 pm #

    I can so relate to the desk picture, and point #2. Good job on the email decision, too!

    Stopping by from the Not Mommy hop :)

    • logyexpress
      Sunday, March 11, 2012 at 8:59 pm #

      Thanks! It feels so good to finally get that email culling off my todo list!

  8. Samantha
    Sunday, March 11, 2012 at 5:59 pm #

    It’s amazing that I relate so well to what you’ve written here, especially since I don’t normally consider myself a perfectionist, just rather OCD (which I think explains why work tends to bring out the perfectionism and the home simply shows I want things “just so”–not necessarily “neat” all the time. I really enjoyed this post, and agree that your teacher was a jerk. The idea of sorting children is appalling and makes me wonder why anyone would think that was a good idea.

    • logyexpress
      Sunday, March 11, 2012 at 9:05 pm #

      I’ve struggled with that too, am I really a perfectionist if I allow crap to get so out of hand? But I think my out of control inbox and desks happened because I can’t accept “good enough.” I hate having everything so messy, but the thought of cleaning up just a little or making any kind of piecemeal improvement somehow feels worse. But I’m trying to knock it off.

  9. Chibi Jeebs
    Sunday, March 11, 2012 at 8:31 pm #

    “I’m a perfectionist; I’m hardwired to do shit the tediously inefficient but right way.”

    That made me giggle because it’s SO me. *shakes head* And girlfriend, go buy yourself some new shoes! 😉

    • logyexpress
      Sunday, March 11, 2012 at 9:07 pm #

      The great irony of all this is that I still haven’t bought the damn shoes. Thanks for the nudge!

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