Perfecto! Atta girl!
Perfectionism Tricks Garner Procrastination Treats
“Mom, you’re always late. Come on! Let’s go, that’s not important!”
My daughter huffs out to the car, turns the ignition key and impatiently burns fuel. Hers and the cars. I scurry around, completing my tasks, ensuring everything is in order before locking the door behind me. Impatience greets me as I slam the passenger door shut.
I feel the need to inform her that as she simply walks out the door, someone has to turn off the fans, close the windows prior to the predicted rain, put the dishes in the dishwasher, fill the dog’s water bowl, sign the birthday card and make sure we have the gift, grab the clothes out of the dryer so they don’t wrinkle, lock the doors and a litany of other ‘before we leave’ tasks. My caretaker and martyr archetype voice wafts down the alley. No one hears nor cares what I have to say. Except my own perfectionistic self.
Some of those tasks do need completion. Common sense tells you to lock the doors and close the windows during rain. If I’m totally honest with myself, other tasks can clearly wait until we return. Who cares if the dishes sit in the sink or the clothes wrinkle in the dryer? I care, that’s who. I care deeply that everything is meticulously left in place before we depart. It is a ritualistic behavioral pattern I have developed, steeped in years of perfectionism. It brings me peace of mind while simultaneously stressing me and others out. I am a sole performer standing in front of a frustrated audience who doesn’t want to attend.
My perfectionism routines invariably make me late. Or, just in time. I do not recall ever missing an important deadline. Making deadlines as a
perfectionist has it perils: driving well over the speed limit, pulling off all nighters, creating unplanned overtime for others, too many last minute errands to locate just the perfect item, frustrated, angry, responses from direct reports and self-imposed punishment for not being good enough.
So, what’s the payoff? ‘Atta girl’ approval bones. It doesn’t take much. Several Best Of professional awards, a few promotions for outstanding performance, kudos from people I love or respect for adding beauty, excellence or bringing to completion what no one else thought they could or absolutely didn’t want to do. Top that off with enough applause and momentarily elevated self-esteem and you have the perfect reward system to reinforce any perfectionism behavior. Suddenly being or doing it perfectly is reclassified as having higher standards of quality and doing whatever it takes to get the job done, complements that gratify one’s ego. A tasty bone for any perfectionist!
There are other payoffs. Avoiding criticism. Somewhere along my life learnings, I determined criticism was another variation of punishment, a punitive judgment of my capabilities vs. constructive consult for self-improvement and bettering myself. Avoiding unwanted attention from workplace power and control bullies. If my work was so good it garnered applause from others before bullies had an opportunity to knock it down, chances are I was off their hook. Avoidance of conflict. If my contributions were perfect, then the emotional responses of disappointment, anger and frustration fell on someone other than me. I could sit quietly in the back and deny accountability.
Avoidance of any kind. Pure and simple. Avoiding my own shortcomings, my own voice, my own power, my own responsibility. The more credence I gave to others’ opinions, the faster the perfectionism genie showed up in my life. She never travelled solo; she always invited her good pal, procrastination, to tag along with her. I grew to like procrastination. We played well together.
Procrastination delivered an even bigger ‘Atta girl’ bone! Avoidance suddenly became completely null and void. Nonexistent. Everything I avoided hit the road when procrastination arrived. She dusted the tops of door frames and curtain rods, paid bills and Armour polished my car. Greeting cards got addressed three weeks early, good will bags overflowed and my garage became perfectly organized. You could throw down a white linen and feast on the floor in my immaculate bathroom. When procrastination tags along with perfectionism, I am a master completer. Everything I’ve avoided is finito. A completamento!
I have read countless books and articles on perfectionism, addiction (particularly those related to workaholism), self-esteem, leadership, emotional intelligence, creativity and ‘becoming my better/best self’. I’ve done my self-awareness to actualization homework, deciding what to keep and honor and what needed to go (like years ago!). I understand the neurology, behaviors, patterns, emotions, mindsets, saboteur voices — all the prongs that uphold my sturdy, well-seasoned umbrella.
I’m tired of fighting the battle of changing the essence of my own inner being and values. I have decided I came out of the womb wired to want some things in perfect alignment. And, that’s perfectly okay. What is, is; what shall be, shall be. What’s most important is that I stay in present moment, out of judgment and worrisome fear, being true to my authentic self. Perfect or imperfect as she may be.
Recognition and acceptance are my friends. They play well with perfectionism and procrastination. Once I recognize perfectionism when it shows up, discern its matter of importance and accept it, then I can play well with procrastination. I trust we’ll have a good time together, eventually bringing an end to all that has previously been avoided. This is the beautiful sweet spot of my ego self aligning perfectly with my higher self. What’s left to avoid?
Like a good dog, I have decided to surrender. To myself. Atta girl! Toss me a bone.