A couple months ago I was asked to be a guest on Jess Lively’s podcast series chatting about the subject of perfectionism, a subject I know about all too well. As long as I can remember I’ve been a worrier, a control-freak and desirous of a flawless existence. Even when it comes down to the small stuff. I spent a good 45 minutes in the middle of the night last night wondering if I picked the right finish on my doorknobs. I can remember a Sunday many years ago when I invited my parents up from brunch in Beacon Hill and when the restaurant and meal turned out to be awful I burst into tears at the table because I was so disappointed in myself for choosing it. It also takes me like six hours to order a drink or meal when out to eat for fear I’ll regret my decision and should have gotten that other thing. I rarely leave the house without making sure I’m totally put together, lose my shit when things don’t operate on schedule ( I am 100% Elaine Benes stuck on the train) and still am able to chastise myself for not getting into an Ivy League school. If worrying and over-thinking were a sport, I’d be the Michael Phelps of it.
Yet I’m not a Monica Gellar kind of perfectionist in that my herbs all need to be alphabetized and windows streak-free, in fact when it comes to keeping the house clean I can be a downright slob (except when company is coming over- then KA-BOOM- I turn into the kind of person who doesn’t let their husband sit down on the sofa for fear he’ll mess up my perfect pillow arrangement). I almost never know where that piece of paper I had in my hand yesterday went, my desk is just a place to pile everything that crosses my field of vision and my wash sometimes sits in the washing machine for two days before I remember to put it in the dryer (after washing it again, of course). I’m this hybrid of ferocious regimen and disorganization. I should be stuck in a test tube and studied.
And yet my brand perfectionism does have it’s upsides. I would never be at the professional level I am today without it. It makes me an incredibly hard worker, a great designer and employee and the kind of person who sets goals and reaches them (on their due date too!) If I’m not 5 minutes early, I’m late, and my publisher certainly adored the fact that every deadline for my book was met to a T. I may have been a heap of sobbing mess on the floor in the middle of the night, but damn it, I meet my deadlines. And when it comes to life, I have a perfect plan laid out too. And this is where it begins to unravel a little.
I think we all have a “life plan” in our heads (maybe some of you on paper) that we hope to adhere to- a wedding by this age, a home by another, a promotion here and a baby there. I met a lot of my dates on schedule- I was married by 26, started my own company by 28 and bought my first real house at 32 (but actually beat my schedule by buying my first property at 25). But along the way my schedule got full and the next big goal- a baby- got pushed back because we weren’t ready (i.e. perfect enough) for that step. I needed to completely focus on my book, Andrew needed a better job, we needed more money in the bank and a second full bathroom in our house.
And guess what? I did it. I checked every damn thing of my list and aligned everything perfectly, and as you know, now I am struggling hugely to get pregnant. As I stocked my fridge yesterday with injections and syringes of medication for our first IVF cycle I was hit in the gut by these feeling that I’ve screwed it all up. That I waited for perfection, and in doing so waited too long. I prioritized all the wrong things and now at 34- almost 35- there is this one BIG, honking box left unchecked that really should have not been pushed aside while I was busy checking all these other superficial boxes off.
But I also know in my heart that I didn’t feel ready three years ago, or even two years ago. Sure, we were “trying” but I wasn’t into it 100%, I was doing it because I felt I had to to keep up with my peers. And now that I am ready and struggling, my Instagram and Facebook feed full of everyone else’s babies, third babies, sonograms and bump shots are like violent kicks to gut and daily reminders that I’m flawed. Social media is like heroin for perfectionists- we get a big high off of the pins, instagrams and status updates of new amazing recipes, throw pillows, gorgeous beach sunsets and fishtail braids followed by deep, dark lows because we start comparing our outtakes to everyone else’s highlight reels. Perfection is what these sites run on, it’s their operating capital.
And I know that
if WHEN I become a mom there will be an even bigger perfectionism struggle ahead in parenting. I can see that one from a mile away. And just as it’s been in my life so far, my strive to be the best will be a benefit as much as a hindrance. In the meantime I need to find a way to cope with it. I will never NOT be a perfectionist, it’s in my DNA and not something I feel the need to crush, but I do want to be a more balanced version of myself. One that allows mistakes, delays and veers off the path- because I know that’s what kids do to your plans. And that is exactly what I need in my life. To take the focus off me, and onto something greater. Fingers crossed I can make that happen.
** And let me take this opportunity to apologize ahead of time if the hormones make me a crazy mess and my posts in the next couple weeks consist of nothing more than a video of a baby goat jumping on a trampoline and a bunch of nouns pounded out on the keyboard.