Furthest Thing – the travails of an imperfect perfectionist

A few years ago, just after one of my closest teaching assistants had retired, she sent me a present. I’ve always thought leaving presents were supposed to be sent to the person that’s actually leaving, rather than the other way around, but I wasn’t complaining. I opened it, and revealed a cream bar of soap. Two words were imprinted on it in playful, crimson letters: “Nobody’s Perfect.”

Now, I’d say this is more the sort of thing you’d send to an ex-lover to tell them you’re willing to look past their flaws and forgive them for the unimaginable pain they’ve caused you by snoring too loudly, say, or for forgetting the mother-in-law’s birthday. Not exactly the type of present I’d expect from an ex-teacher, that’s for sure.

But the gift was actually an inside joke. All my life, I’ve been a perfectionist. For every exam, if I haven’t read through every half-relevant book I own cover to cover, then I feel anxiously underprepared. In a relationship, be it a friend or a girlfriend, if it’s all going well, instead of relaxing like most people, I become anxious that I’m going to ruin it and end up agonising over making the right impression. When I started playing golf, if I messed up one hole then in my head that was the entire round demolished.

But ever since my teacher sent me that little bar of soap all those years ago, I have desperately tried to curb my ‘perfectionism’. However, I’ve found that now I swing wildly from unhealthy meticulousness to idle carelessness. With my writing, for example, in order to prevent myself from spending days on end chopping and changing an article and rereading it and re-re-reading it until it’s ‘perfect’, I now don’t want to check it at all. I want to write a great big splurge of text and then chuck it online without even looking for spelling mistakes, because I know that if I read it through I’ll start nit-picking and when I finally publish it no one will be interested in how amazing Drake’s latest album was, because by then he’ll have already brought out Views from the Seventh, Eighth and Ninth. I even wrote my Personal Statement first draft the other day and was quite prepared to send it off there and then with no more than a cursory glance for any red or green squiggles. Now people tell me I’m lazy, which is quite a leap from the ‘perfectionist’ tag I once wore in the eyes of my teaching assistant.

So…how do I find a happy medium?

Well, I think I have to realise that there’s no such thing as ‘perfect’. Life is always going to throw curveballs at me, and if I sometimes swing and miss it’s not the end of the world, even if it feels like a disaster. I’ve always tried to do everything – and I mean everything – ‘right’. I’ve always wanted to look 100% ‘right’, to talk 100% ‘right’, to act 100% ‘right’. But I need to stop worrying about other people’s perceptions of me for a minute, and just accept that I’m not ‘perfect’, and I never will be. Equally, though, I need to accept that it’s ok try and improve my work, just not obsessively, because it will never be ‘perfect’ either.

And at the end of the day, it’s our imperfections that people find most endearing. They show we are human, rather than drab, monotonous robots. So, as cliché as it sounds, from now on I’m going to embrace my flaws, whilst also respecting my qualities. As a wise woman once told me, ‘Nobody’s Perfect’. And I think that’s a good thing.

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