Monday, September 23, 2013

Perfectionists Unite!

I left yesterday's post up.  It's amazing to me how, when I feel like I am taking a risk I'm not quite comfortable with...when I feel like I'm putting myself out there a little too much, people start commenting and messaging and texting me.  The thing is, a lot of these messages and comments and texts say the same thing: they say "me, too."  They say, "I feel you, and similarly, I..."  They say, "thanks for that.  I hear that and live that, too."

So even though I still want to (AND STILL MIGHT) go back and delete that post, right now I feel like I can't.  What sort of message does that send to all of the "me toos?"  I'm stretching myself, guys, and I'm pushing that comfort zone a little bit because of the "me toos."  This follow-up post is for those who said to me, or said in your head "me, too." 

A bit of a conversation came about on yesterday's post on Facebook.  One friend shared her "me too" and then said, "perfectionists unite to screw up!" Another reminded me that "perfect" is, of course, a socially constructed concept -- but took it a step further to remind me that if it is socially constructed, it can also be deconstructed. 

As silly as it sounds, I hadn't really considered this.  Of course, I know that the idea of "perfect" and what "perfect" means is entirely socially constructed and likely based on a variety of economic and cultural values.  The idea of deconstruction I have often considered.  To an extent, my posts about gratitude and forgiveness consist of me deconstructing these topics.  My entire dissertation was about deconstructing the lens by with we try to understand mothers of children with disabilities, and about allowing them to reconstruct their understanding of their children, their families, and their needs.  It was powerful, powerful work to have those conversations.  To gather understanding from their lived experience and find common threads and themes that differed from what we (as people outside of that lived experience) perceive their life and understanding to kind of blew my mind at first.  However, I love thinking in this way.  I love getting outside of what I think to be true and throwing away my lens (to the extent that I am able) and reconstructing from the ground up.  In college, my research paper for my qualitative research class was on reconstructing shyness from the lived experience of those who self-identify as shy, without the constraints and constructs imposed by outside views.  Qualitative research is my THING, people.  If you want to see me geek out and get REALLY nerdy and excited, talk to me about qualitative research. 

(Actually, you could probably talk to me about pretty much anything and see me geek out and get really nerdy and excited.  Qualitative research is just one topic of many that's sure to elicit that reaction).

All of that to say, I get the idea of deconstruction.  I commented back to say that I like that idea...but that deconstruction is hard.  I mean really, have you ever tried challenging your lens, beliefs and ideas and creating new ones, all in your own head (and, preferably within the 5 minutes I gave myself to think about this matter)?  It's hard stuff.  Awesome idea...but hard.

My wise friend replied that "social construction and deconstruction is a group activity."



Lightbulb moment.

Right.  You can't do all that in your head.  This is something you do in community.  This is something that is a process and a conversation, and something that is just a radical act of challenging yourself and your world.  Got it.

So then I started imagining: what would it be like to have a group of self-proclaimed perfectionists sit and talk about this issue?  Not in a therapy group sort of format, but in a "let's sit and look into each other's faces and say 'me, too,'" sort of way.  Imagine how much power there could be in holding one another's stories of the struggle to become the ever elusive "perfect," and drawing out those common threads.  Imagine the relief we could learn from hearing "this shit ISN'T all in my head.  It's me.  And it's her.  And it's him.  And here is how we learned this thing, and this is what it means, and we don't have to drink that Kool-Aid anymore. 

Imagine being able to take this thing called "perfect" -- this golden, gorgeous, gleaming ball of sunshine and sweet dreams you've been chasing your entire life...imagine being able to hold it in your hands and unwrap it, and unwrap it, and unwrap it, past all its layers of false hope and bullshit, until you find whatever is in its core.  Once you get there, you have the choice to do what you want to do with it.  You can wrap it back up as is...or you can recreate it.  Maybe perfect isn't racing to achieve 24/7, or being the perfect weight, or being able to wrap your knees behind your neck in yoga positions, or being off the charts in intelligence, or never putting a toe out of line. 

I want to offer an alternative right now...what should follow next is "maybe perfect is this other thing that isn't like perfection but sounds really good, too."  But, I remember now -- deconstruction happens as a group.  I don't have an alternative at the moment.  I don't even have a good definition of what perfect is.  Deconstruction has to happen in community.  I believe that it has to come from the voices of those who have this lived experience residing in their bloodstream.  What powerful, powerful work that could be -- for you.  For me.  For our communities.  For our world.  What a radical, subversive act that would be! 

I love being radical and subversive.  It makes my blood tickle in my veins. 

Let's do an experiment.  I may abandon this little mini-experiment at any time.  But I'm curious.

Knowing that I may (anonymously or with your name/self-chosen pseudonym, given your blessing) use your ideas/words in a future blog post, how would you answer these questions?

***If you had to prescribe perfectionism to someone who is not perfectionistic in 3 words, what words would you choose?***

***If you could talk back to perfectionism, what is the first thing you would say (two sentences or less).***

Answer below, or email me (, or respond on Facebook, know...smoke signals or carrier pigeon or certified mail, or whatever works best for you. 

Perfectionists unite!


  1. Talking back to my own perfectionism- maybe I can try "What will matter in 5 months?" 5 years? As a way to focus on the big stuff. And if it's really only important for the next five minutes, I will hopefully wonder if it was worth stressing over. But maybe not.

    1. I think that's good perspective to try to have, though. I definitely doesn't always work, particularly in the moment. It can be something that I KNOW is ridiculous and I still feel like it will matter "FOREVER." Perfectionism is a drama queen, is she not?