I went to an event last week where they handed out candy canes with words attached to them. The words, individual to each person, served as the night's conversation topic. My word was perfectionism. My first reaction was just that I was no longer a perfectionist. Too easy.
Once upon a time, I was a perfectionist. Or, better stated, I was someone who strove to be perfect. I hadn't actually perfected perfectionism.
If I couldn't be perfect, I could try to make everything I did perfect. For example, I worked as a magazine editor. I developed a high set of production standards and a microscopic eye for detail. If there was an error, whether typo, scratched film, misaligned color plate, or some other ant's-eye-view thing, I'd find it. Would anyone else notice? Maybe 1 in 500 people. Would that person care? Maybe a 1 in 500 chance. But it gave me a sense of control where life didn't allow it. It gave me something I could fix and a change I could see.
Not to worry, if we worked together and your standards didn't match my mine, I'd just fix things for you. I could find the needles in the haystack. It was almost a game sometimes. I knew my standards were off the hook and I wasn't crazy enough to expect you to meet them. (You're welcome.)
Fast forward... Life continued to show me that perfect wasn't meant to be. I couldn't make my marriage perfect no matter how I tried. I couldn't even fix things to make him happy even when I gave up on my own idea of happy.
I learned new skills. A new job, new company, new atmosphere, and less emphasis on perfect all around. My standards were wearing me down. I did something drastic. I stopped working extra hours to get everything just right. I stopped doing your reviews and fixing your stuff. I did my job to the best of my ability, but I left it at my job. Your job was yours. If you asked for my help, I'd help you. But I didn't need to do the fine-toothed-comb scrub of your stuff to make it meet my definition of perfect.
And if your stuff didn't match my expectations, instead of viewing it as a mistake, I looked at it as "something I would have done differently." Most often, there were no repercussions for anyone. Work got easier. People got nicer. (Or I did...)
Fast forward... Life brought more examples, learning opportunities.
I brought new words into my vocabulary: acceptance, trust. I learned to accept what came my way. This is today. This is my reality. It may not be what I wanted/expected/prepared for, but it is where my life is in the present moment. I learned to trust that things would resolve in the way they should. I stopped trying to define and schedule outcomes. I started living my life instead of working it.
When I tried to define perfect, it was unattainable. I could never measure up to my own definition, nor yours. Or even truly know what yours was, only assume it was something I'd never achieve. In essence, trying to be perfect was a sure-fire prescription for the opposite: failure.
I don't try to define perfect.
I abandon the habit of setting expectations.
I resist the temptation to predict.
I refuse to measure myself against a standard.
I accept my life as it comes.
I trust that the answers will come in their own time.
I trust that the answers will come in their own form.
I let my life happen.
Then, my life is perfect.