I have a love/hate relationship with perfectionists. I say this because two of my best friends are absolute perfectionists. I say this because every woman who has broken my heart has been a perfectionist. I say this because there is perfectionism that runs in my family. I hate them because their tightly wound up world tramples all over my beautiful, over idealistic world. I love them because they bring balance to my life. My world is imperfectly subjective, while their world is “perfectly” objective. I hate them also because I see my own perfectionistic tendencies through then.
Augustine once said “Complete abstinence is easier than perfect moderation.” This thought penetrates through one of the most demonizing mindsets haunting the Western world right. The Western world has bought into “all or nothing” thinking. We have to do everything perfectly, or not do it at all. We see this all over our culture. Schools and parents everywhere tell kids they have to get straight A’s or they won’t get into a good college. Hollywood tells people to crash diet. Unless the women look like Katy Perry or Natalie Portman and the men don’t look like Brad Pitt or Channing Tatum then they are less than perfect. All or nothing thinking has produced a society of anxious and angry people who are filled with shame.
The perfectionism in me isn’t the classic textbook definition of perfectionism. I don’t carry a to-do list. My mind isn’t racing about what happens when something isn’t finished perfectly, or making sure I buy the best item, or making sure that whatever I do, I do it perfectly. No, my perfectionism often comes in forms of vanity and ambition. I did all or nothing dieting for several brief moments during my teenage years. I lost lots of weight fast but put it back on because I wasn’t really dealing with the issue behind the weight gain. I spent most of my teenage years overweight but during an emotionally abusive relationship during my early 20’s, I chronically put on weight. I ballooned up to almost 500 lbs. After the relationship ended, I stopped eating as much and began dropping weight like crazy. Loving what was happening, I became obsessed with weight loss and looking perfectly. I had lost 250 lbs, subscribed to GQ and was correctly labeled a “metro-sexual”. All the while, this was all a facade to mask the pain. I hadn’t really begun doing any good soul work until the bandages of this false self, started coming off. Eventually, the glitz and the glam ends. Eventually we have to accept what is because there is always going to be something bigger and better. If we can’t do that then all we are left with is anger and anxiety.
Richard Rohr once said “Perfection is perfectly accepting your imperfection”. This is good news. Its good news for us who don’t carry the burden of perfectionism as heavily because it’s not built into our personality. Its better news for those who have it built into their personality. The immaturity of perfectionists in anger, when they begin to accept themselves we begin to experience their immense joy. That’s my hope, that as good loves and all of us and accepts all of us as we are, than we can begin giving that out to others and ourselves.