The Unknowing Perfectionist

Categories Happiness, Know Yourself Better

I was driving to work yesterday morning listening to an episode of the podcast Happier (we talked about how this was a favorite podcast of ours in this post) and I had an epiphany. I am a perfectionist…and I didn’t know it. In episode 126, Gretchen and Elizabeth are talking about perfectionism as a stumbling block to happiness (25:29-36:52 if you want to fast forward to the discussion). Gretchen describes perfectionism as an “anxiety about a standard”. You can keep your standards high, but take away that anxiety and you take away perfectionism. I’m driving and listening to this and nodding my head “sure, but this is not a problem I have”. Then Gretchen says there are two ways perfectionism creeps into your life: 1. Don’t start and 2. Can’t finish. Whoa!!! I am a “don’t start” perfectionist!!

I always thought of perfectionism as not being able to finish something. I have met some perfectionists who will fiddle and fiddle with a project and never finish because it won’t be perfect. I had never thought my inability to start projects fit in the same category. It completely makes sense now. There is one area in my life where I definitely see this profusely and that is sewing.

I enjoy sewing and I always thought I had a hard time finishing projects. Now, I have realized that I have a hard time starting projects because I have a standard in my head for how it should look (maybe it’s a picture of the project in a magazine, or my talented friend did something similar, or just an idea in my head) and I know it will not meet that standard. So, I don’t start. I go and buy everything I need for all of these projects. If one piece of the project is missing, I can’t start until I have everything. Well, even after I have all of the pieces I don’t start. Then I will say to myself that I don’t know all of the techniques to start this project or I have never sewn with that type of fabric, so the questioner in me will research everything about it which prevents me from starting. I don’t start…

There are times when I can push through this. For the past few years, I have been dressing up in costumes when I attend San Diego Comic Con. My friend’s daughter likes to join me and my friends in these costuming adventures. I typically make her costumes and it is something I enjoy doing. ¬†Although, I procrastinate starting the costumes and stress myself out by procrastinating, I am able to get them done because I don’t want to disappoint my friend’s daughter. I now know I procrastinate because I don’t start. I am afraid to start because I know it will not be perfect. I know it will not look like the picture. The thing is that she doesn’t care if it does or not. She loved all of the costumes I made her and never once said anything negative about them.

2017 SDCC costumes I made for my friend’s daughter

One of the things Gretchen said during this podcast that really struck me is “embrace my level”. I need to remember this. I need to remember that each project is another learning experience and it’s not going to be perfect, but it doesn’t need to be. Even when I fail, I am learning and I am getting better for the next project. It’s a journey and I need to embrace where I am in this journey.

I found some really great quotes on perfection:

  • Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. – Voltaire
  • Perfectionism is shallow, unreal and fatally uninteresting. – Anne Lamott
  • I will hold myself to a standard of grace, not perfection. – Unknown
  • Strive for continuous improvement, instead of perfection. – Kim Collins
  • Strive for progress, not perfection. – Unknown
  • Don’t let your want for perfection become procrastination. – Unknown
  • There is no fun in perfection. – Unknown
  • I always find beauty in things that are odd and imperfect – they are much more interesting. – Marc Jacobs
  • Perfectionism is an illusion and those who seek perfection will find themselves unfulfilled their whole lives. – Unknown
  • The pursuit of perfection often impedes improvement. – George Will

I need to print a few of these out and post them around my sewing stuff. I am definitely not a perfectionist in all areas of my life because I still try new recipes with no problem. I absolutely need to work on this when it does creep into my life.

Is anyone else a perfectionist and didn’t know it? What areas of your life do you find it hard to keep perfectionism at bay? How do you deal with perfectionism?

Your fellow traveler and unknowning perfectionist,


P.S. I am going home now to work on my sewing projects.


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