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 These days, “NOW” has been replaced by exhausting post mortems on what I could have done differently to avoid a mistake and often an internal berating for not knowing this already.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!