Almost Perfect – Confessions of a Perfectionist

Hi, my name is Lea and I am a perfectionist. I need everything to be perfect, all of the time – most of all, me. I need to be perfect, and if I can’t be (which is only human, so I’ve been told), it feels like the air is being sucked out of my lungs while somebody is pulling fiercly at my hair. My hair is getting very long, by the way, and I really need to go to the hairdresser’s.

Being a perfectionist has so many advantages. You never have to worry about your apartment being too dirty, your grades are always top notch and whenever you doubt yourself or your achievements, there will be five people around you to tell you that you shouldn’t worry because “Everything’ll be fine”. After all, perfectionists never make mistakes, have conquered everything thrown at them and, while occasionally whining about upcoming tests or similar quests, everyone else have seen them be the best countless times before and therefore believe they know the perfectionist’s destiny…to continue to be perfect.

Here’s the catch.

And no, this is not going to be a “Poor me, I’m a perfectionst”-post where I write all about the horrors perfectionists seemingly live through. This is going to be a post about why everything needs to be perfect in order for me to feel like things are okay.

I do believe in having a predisposition for certain character traits. I have always been an achiever, over-achiever some might say, and I was raised to strive for being as good as you can. I am good at achieving, at working hard, at putting my all into something I want to conquer. When people meet me for the first time, so I’ve been told, I seem like super-woman. I have always gotten the best grades, I have always completed everything I ever started (with the one exception of my volunteer year in 2010/11, because that was just bull***) and I am extremely good at faking my self-confidence. It’s actually a very important skill to have when you are a teacher: As long as the kids don’t doubt that you are completely confident in your role, it realy doesn’t matter if you actually believe in your abilities.

I need everything to be perfect. I need to be the perfect woman, the perfect eater, the perfect athlete, the perfect teacher, the perfect girlfriend, sister, daughter, friend. I need my apartment to be clean, the laundry to be done, the windows to be shiny. I need tests to go exactly the way I believe they should go – with the outcome being perfect or nothing. I am a perfectionist. And when I fail to be perfect, I don’t know who I am.

As part of my teacher’s training, I had another graded lesson last week. It’s one lesson I have two weeks to prepare extensively, in which there’s a committee of three people observing my teaching. It’s gruesome, as everything has to be perfect during that one lesson, and if you slip up even slightly, they take notes. Slipping up is relative, of course – it could be the fact that you aren’t standing left of the teacher’s desk when you start the lesson, or that you didn’t turn off the lights while showing the class a picture on the projector.

I didn’t get the perfect grade. I didn’t get an A.

What I got was a B. Which is fine for anyone else according to my brain, but not for me. I feel like I failed. Big time. I feel like I’m worth nothing without the perfect grade. I don’t know who I am when I’m not perfect. I feel like perfection is what defines me, what I can relate to, what I know how to project.

And I know that a B isn’t a bad grade at all. I just can’t accept it because it’s not the best grade.

As a perfectionist, I define myself via perfection. And, as I’m bound to, I fail miserably to fulfill my own expectations. I am not perfect, not by a whole lot, but I apparently can’t learn that that’s completely normal.

Perfectionists may seem to have it all: They’re always perfectly organized, they have structure and a system to everything, they achieve so much and make it look easy…but, don’t be fooled. I am a perfectionist and only achieve so much because without those achievements, I can’t function. Without structure and a system to everything, I don’t know what to do with myself. Without feeling like I am the best at something, I feel like I’m nothing at all.

And that’s not to say that I consider other people who aren’t the best to be nothing – there’s a weird double standard going on in my heart. Everyone else is allowed mistakes, is allowed to screw up royally and will be loved all the more for it (by me), but I may not. I can not deal with screwing up. I start crying if I drop a plate – imagine how I felt when I didn’t get the best grade possible last week.

The good thing is – I’m still alive. Big whoop, I know, but I think that’s something us perfectionists need to experience over and over, and continuously, otherwise we forget that not being perfect is actually a state of being that is tolerable. If it will ever feel “okay” not to be the best – in my eyes – I’m not sure. The downside to knowing myself as a perfectionist with all it’s disadvantages is that I also know that I’ve only achieved so much in my life because I am constantly beating myself up. I push myself so hard because I know that that’s how I will succeed in the end.

The perfect balance is what I’d like to strive for – but, there we have it again. “Perfect” anything is like poison to any attempt to getting over the self-induced pressure I feel to do everything correctly.

I am a perfectionist. I need everything to be perfect and that’s why so many things about me may seem to be. But, don’t be fooled:

A perfectionist’s biggest imperfection is perfectionism.

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