Confessions of a Perfectionist
For as long as I can remember, I have been a perfectionist. Actually, it’s been longer than that. My mom would tell me that before I could walk, I sat in the high chair and licked my fingers to pick up every last crumb from the tray. I’m not saying that I am clean, I am saying that I just needed to be in control.
In my perfect world, I like to eat breakfast between 7–9am, lunch between 11am-1pm, and dinner hopefully before 7pm. I rarely enjoy meals at restaurants because it feels like I am letting go of the reins. I worry a lot when I don’t know what my next meal will be. I can’t go with the flow and leave things up to the moon and the stars because it makes me extremely uncomfortable.
My grandmother would not let us talk to her before she had her coffee. She refused to live outside of her “patterns”. She refused to let go of control, even when she had house guests. Even with her grandchildren. The night before, she would set fresh placemats on the kitchen table with two choices of boxed cereal, bowls, spoons, and even folded paper napkins so we wouldn’t have to bother her when we woke up. But my brother and I always thought the joke was on her because she drank decaf.
We have been traveling in our Airstream with our two cats for seven months now and strange things happen to your mind when you don’t know where you are. And what is funny is that when we tell everyone what we are doing they are jealous of us. Ha! On the East Coast, the ocean is on the wrong side. We are totally and completely spiraling out of control, and we don’t know where the sun will set, much less if we will be able to see it. At age 50, I am breaking all of my lifelong rules and it is fucking hard.
But I am not afraid of taking risks. I quit my high paying job to open a bakery with no formal training, no knowledge of how to run a business, and no financial backing. Plus, I am a woman which stacks the cards against me although I’ve never really put too much stock in what people say or think. Come to think of it, I also never understand why people say it’s so hard for the penniless to be successful. Isn’t saying that out loud simply reinforcing the tendency to fail?
I spoke once on a panel discussion about what it takes to run a bakery and people came up to me afterward and said they could never give up the safety of their full time jobs and risk losing everything. I asked them “What is everything?”
I took an extreme risk while at the same time as I was a perfectionist. Those two forces seem to be opposite of each other. And that was extremely stressful. At times, my drive to be in control was getting in the way of my drive to take risks and move forward. I was shutting down when I should have been opening up. My perfectionism was stifling my creativity and keeping me up at night.
I know, I know, the world doesn’t work that way. But I could care less about how the world works because I can create a better one.
My perfectionism caused me the loss of many of my employees who could never live up to my expectations.
My perfectionism still makes me forget what I am really after. It means I always have to be right. No matter what. It is a rabbit hole that closes off my mind to any other ideas. It isolates me from the people around me.
But I am actually far from perfect. My average GPA in school was a solid “B”. Sure, a little better than most, but far from perfect. I should have studied violin. I got an “A” in violin class.
Thankfully, however, I have two other tricks up my sleeve: passion and persistence.
While on the road, I have been baking bread semi-regularly in my tiny 17” tall oven. Most of the time, the bread is a failure. Of course a really ugly loaf of bread is still going to be better than anything you get in the store. But it is really hard for me, the perfectionist, to accept these less than perfect loaves. I eat them with disdain. I apologize when I share my bread with my friends.
I am passionate about baking bread, even though I suck at it. Don’t tell me I don’t suck at it because I don’t want your pity. Pity would imply I am less than perfect and I don’t want that.
One thing that’s good is that I know that will never give up because my perfectionism is extremely persistent, and it actually makes taking risks okay. When people ask me, “How do you do it? How do you risk everything?”, I tell them they are worried about the wrong thing. You should never worry about failure. When you take failure out of the options, taking a risk is not taking a risk at all.
I am always scared shitless when I ride my bike on a gravel road. I squeeze the handlebars too tight and live in constant fear of falling. My friend Ben back in Seattle once told me that the trick is to look where you want to go, and your bike will follow your eye. My other friend Andrew must not have listened because he fell into a ditch. He was worried about the wrong thing.
I am no spaghetti faced baby. I will always be pushy, bossy, and not afraid to say what’s on my mind. I will not be popular at parties nor will I have a lot of friends. I will be frustrated with all of the people in my life because they aren’t perfect enough. I know it’s possible that I might end up inspiring a few people along the way, but it will never be enough. It will never be perfect. And I will have to find a way to live with that struggle. And possibly some day I will be able to give zero fucks about what people think of me.
Meanwhile, I will continue to search for that perfect loaf. I may never find it, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take.