I’m a perfectionist. That’s right, I admit it. I’m sure some of you are reading this with a shocked expression, maybe even with a hand to your chest, wondering how I found the courage to come right out and say it.
The answer is easy; it’s not something to be ashamed of. In fact, I even think it’s a good thing. To me, the bigger question would be
Why isn’t everyone a perfectionist?
I’m not perfect—I won’t begin to pretend I’m even close to perfect, so don’t get me wrong. That’s not what we’re talking about here. But my ultimate goal in everything I do, is to get it as close to perfect as I possibly can.
And, yes, sometimes I drive people crazy in the process. Truth is, I’m really okay with that. And, I make no apologies about it.
What those people don’t realize is that my own expectations—the standards I hold myself to—are much higher than I would ever impose on anyone else. They’re getting off easy.
In my mind, things are either done right, or they’re wrong. I’ve been told there’s a gray area that lies between those two points, but I have a tough time seeing it.
By the way, I found a typo in my post a few weeks ago—don’t panic, it’s fixed now—but . . . why didn’t anyone tell me? It was like that for almost two days. Two days! The horror! The humiliation! The–
Oh. Sorry . . . where was I? Ahem . . .
Why would I want to do something mediocre when I could put in a little more effort and strive for great? Details count. A lot, in my opinion.
Every great chef understands the value of presentation—that gourmet dish probably wouldn’t taste any different if it were slopped onto a plate cafeteria-style instead of being beautifully arranged with an artistic flair. But being able to appreciate the beauty of a meal as it’s served to you builds anticipation; you know a lot of care went into its preparation, and you expect something wonderful when you bite into it. (Hopefully the chef delivers on his promise, and you aren’t disappointed.)
I will be the first to admit that I might . . . maybe . . . possibly go the teeniest little bit overboard sometimes. I’ll confess to straightening the diploma on the wall at my doctor’s office while he was out of the exam room.
I might be guilty of refolding some of the laundry when my husband helps me out. (Not really, sweetheart, I’m just making a point.) Shhh . . .
I can’t bring myself to hit the send button on an email or text until I’ve re-read, revised and edited it. Fine . . . several times. But, I should probably warn you I’ve been trying to break this habit lately, so you may get a message from me that has a, um . . . you know, m-mistake or two.
Anyone I work with will tell you that I have the cleanest, neatest, and most organized desk in the office—and if you move something, even half an inch, I will know.
There’s a good chance my spice jars are arranged alphabetically with all the labels facing forwa—What? Don’t judge . . . that just makes sense!
When I cook, I take the time to cut up all the ingredients by hand rather than going the easy route and tossing them in my food processor. Why? Because my way, everything will be uniform—the same size and shape. Perfect.
All the same principles apply when I write. My well-planned ideas are organized on a detailed outline, so I know what’s going to happen at any given point in the story. From there, it’s just a matter of carefully blending the ingredients to create a fictional world that promises something special. Details matter, remember? And sometimes changing a single word here or there makes a huge difference in the overall impact of a scene.
But I have a hard time putting down the words if they aren’t perfect.
I’m getting better at just dumping my thoughts on the page—sorry, had to pause to shudder at the idea—and then rearranging them until they’re . . . well, almost perfect. Hopefully, when I’m finished, I’ll have created a story that pulls readers in and guides them through an entertaining series of emotional twists and turns.
I will admit that being a perfectionist can be a handicap at times.
It is most likely the root of my enormous, and potentially crippling, fear of failing. There have been times where self-doubt of my ability to do something right, a.k.a. perfect, has prevented me from even taking that initial step into the unknown. It’s the reason I’ve passed up many opportunities and adventures in my life, something I regret immensely.
That drive to be perfect and the subsequent fear of failing almost prevented me from pursuing my dream of being a writer. It definitely held me back for years, but I’m happy to say I’m still winning that personal battle.
I recently went on a job interview and was asked what my weakest quality is. The manager gave me a strange look when I responded, “I’m a perfectionist.” I had to go on to explain the importance of understanding the limitations it can put on my ability to accomplish goals and how I’ve learned to control it.
And I believe I have. It’s still there, pushing me to do things to the absolute best of my ability. No excuses! But being aware of the damaging effects it can have, has allowed me to harness its power and put it to
good perfect use.
Nobody’s perfect. Nothing is perfect. The best we can do is strive to be near perfect and accept that close, is good enough.
Oops! Gotta run—I just had a perfect idea for the scene I’m writing! —CJ