Thursday, April 7, 2011

Perfecting The Perfectionist

Anyone who has known me for a long time can tell you I'm FAR from perfect. I'm messy, disorganized, chaotic, spontaneously irrational, a procrastinator, and frequently just plain lazy. I yell when I'm angry, I am inconsistent, and my housekeeping skills are poor. I don't take time every day to enjoy my children. I binge on fatty, salty, and / or sugary foods when I'm stressed or depressed. I don't intentionally exercise. I speak before I think. I don't keep in touch with friends and family. I don't take enough care of myself. And, I'm not very humble. ;)

As it happens, I also have a lot of great qualities, which I prefer to focus on. Sometimes though, every one of us sees (or reads / hears about) someone out there who succeeds in all the areas we fail. Maybe it's a blogger mom who is super organized with an orderly house and great time management skills. Maybe it's a friend who has the perfect marriage (whatever that means to you). Or maybe it's just someone in your family who sticks to budgets, saves their money, and has paid off their mortgage. Do you, like me, sometimes feel discouraged by these paradigms of domestic virtue? Do you feel like you will never measure up? Let me share a few words of wisdom that have encouraged me.

First, get a proper perspective. You can only see other people's lives from the outside, while you have an insider's knowledge of all the down and dirty parts of your own. Each person has their own struggles and weaknesses, I assure you. This goes along with the old adage, the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. Or, as the late great Erma Bombeck humourously put it, the grass is always greener over the septic bed.

Next, ask yourself if you are comparing apples to apples. The couple who have their mortgage paid off and are debt free may be phenomenal money managers, or they may simply have had 15 years longer to get established. Too often couples with young families feel like they are poor if they don't have the same standard of living as their parents' generation. The reality is that the older generation has had more time to pay off debts and save money, especially once their children became independent. Here is another example: Your mother-in-law may be the best housekeeper that ever lived, but was she so proficient when she was your age, with children underfoot? (Unfortunately mine was, so that excuse doesn't work for me!)

Remember that lasting change takes time. If you want to be a better spouse, parent, homemaker, employee or whatever, set realistic goals and identify small steps you can take on the way to achieving them. I want to highlight realistic goals, because too often those of us with perfectionist tendencies can get caught up in the "best or bust" mindset. It is so tempting to just give up when you set goals that you know or suspect you cannot reach, or if you expect perfection and experience a minor setback. Celebrate every small step as getting you that much closer to your destination. Know when to say "good enough for now."

We are ALL far from perfect. All of us are also valuable. We are worthwhile. I believe God made each one of us - you and me - as entirely unique individuals with our own strengths and weaknesses, each for a very special purpose. I may not know the whole purpose of my life, but I can discover parts of it in each day: to love my family, to cheer someone who is sad, to encourage someone who is despairing, to celebrate Truth, to give glory to God. Don't be chained by your limitations. Know that what seems impossible to you is entirely possible to God, even perfecting the perfectionist.