I have a few hours of sobriety since my most recent frustrating thoughts of what I might need to do to be perfect. I keep attempting to quit using perfection as a goal. Then I see a friend accomplishing something in her life, an acquaintance being acknowledged for his heroism, someone I don’t know from Adam appearing to have her life together perfectly, and it triggers the craving for perfection. I can’t seem to stay away from it. It pulls me in like trying to blow up a balloon sucks all the wind out of me. These attempts at perfection have become unmanageable, so I’m here to admit I have a problem and I need help. (And everyone said, “Thank you for sharing, Vicky.”)
So … I’m not mocking Alcoholics Anonymous or patronizing the many people who confessed a substance problem and have been helped by the organization of those who have been helped by helping others. This craving for perfection is real. My childhood was greatly influenced by godly people who spent their lives desiring to be like Jesus, adhering to the scriptural exhortation of being perfect, as God is perfect (Matthew 5:48). Unfortunately, I didn’t get the “as God is perfect” part as much as the interpretation that “if I mess up, I’m ruined, because everyone around me is perfect.” And when you finish high school at #17 out of 29 classmates (Yes, that is what my transcript says, and I can’t count the number of times I have looked at it and beat myself up for not being at least in the top half.), knowing that you are that far away from perfect is like trying to run a marathon with no training, carrying a 200 pound barbell. It doesn’t seem to matter that your first two years of high school were riddled with the losses of three close family members. You should have been strong enough and spiritual enough to push through, be strong, and reach your potential. Instead, the constant reminder that perfection is just out of reach leads you to be paralyzed with fear of trying anything outside your comfort zone because you will certainly fail and feel the looks of pity from those you admire for their perfect lives.
Because that number, 17 out of 29, was stuck in my head as a representation of “not good enough,” I spent a good many years not knowing what I could possibly be slightly good at, much less perfect. I took a few classes here and there, and did well, but nothing clicked. I was certain that no one expected much of me, and yet there was desire inside to make a difference. I finally figured it out and started back to college, which was monumentally challenging while working full time and being a single mom. I still wanted perfect grades and I worked hard for them. Because a few grades were transferred in, my GPA still wasn’t as perfect as I wanted, but it was more acceptable (My academic advisor was WON-DER-FUL at pep talks.), and gave me the courage to attempt graduate school. Two factors supported this new realization that I could do well: online classes and the encouragement of family, friends, and acquaintances. I never had to compare my grades to those of classmates. I only had to do MY best and many shared their belief in my capability when I doubted myself.
More than a year ago, I came across a statement that stood out to me. (I truly would credit whoever said or wrote it, if I could remember who.) This is what I took away: I don’t have to be perfect compared to the next person. I just have to be better than I was yesterday. Wow. Hit me like a ton of bricks. Or a huge wave of relief. I compare the concept to the training for swimmers. Initially, they are not focused on the other swimmers. They work on cutting off a second or two from yesterday’s time. And when you think about it, the constant frenzy to be perfect is selfish. Yes, selfish. Because it does focus on being better than the next person, possibly making them feel “less than,” rather than the progress I make each day. And while I desire to be respected, I can’t spend my days fretting over other’s seeing my imperfection.
I want to be great, not arrogant. I don’t want to be perfect. I want to be better than I was yesterday. I want to be human and forgiving when others make mistakes, because I know I will need that same forgiveness when I mess up. I will keep working on “better than yesterday,” and maybe, just maybe, it will allow for someone else to be okay with who they are today. Here’s to perfection recovery. (I tried to create a logo for Perfectionists Anonymous, but it wasn’t good enough! Oops.)