Blogging My Way Through Perfectionism

“One thing is sure. We have to do something. We have to do the best we know how at the moment… If it doesn’t turn out right, we can modify it as we go along.” ~ Franklin D. Roosevelt

“Many leave the labours of half their life to their executors and to chance, because they will not send them abroad unfinished, and are unable to finish them, having prescribed to themselves such a degree of exactness as human diligence can scarcely attain.” ~ Samuel Johnson

In a recent comment, Didi asked if I feel I know myself well and if there is something I’m searching to know better. How well do I know myself? Not nearly as well as I once thought I did. Seriously. I feel myself changing almost by the day sometimes, in ways I don’t always understand. Blogging, for me, is one way of asking and addressing all the questions I’m asking of myself. As I write, I understand whatever I write about a little better. Or, at the very least, I have new questions to ask.

Perfectionism is a good example. I know that I have perfectionistic traits and that they affect my writing and other aspects of my life, but I’m still trying to figure out in what ways and what to do about it.

I never really thought of myself as a perfectionist until our son started school and the gifted and talented coordinator lent me a book titled Perfectionism: What’s Bad About Being Too Good, by Miriam Adderholdt, Ph.D., and Jan Goldberg (Free Spirit Publishing). Although I was given the book as a way to understand my son (it is written for teens and young adults), reading it gave me a new understanding of myself. Perfectionism can show itself in an approach toward relationships? I had no idea. Perfectionism can lead to overcommitment? Ah, yes, that makes sense.

Another author who has changed my thinking about perfectionism is Mary-Elaine Jacobsen, author of The Gifted Adult (Ballantine Books). Jacobsen differentiates between pathologically perfectionistic obsessions or compulsions, on the one hand, and an innate “drive to perfect” on the other. She writes, “Contrary to some psychological theories, a perfection orientation is not dysfunctional and not equivalent to compulsive perfectionism. A wholly negative view of the drive toward perfection is a troubling distortion of its original meaning….” The problem comes when we adopt an all or nothing attitude: “No matter how difficult or great the accomplishment, it isn’t enough. What we do is never good enough, according to perfectionistic criteria.”

According to Jacobsen, adults who have a hard-wired “drive to perfect” can ask themselves if their drive has become exaggerated or collapsed:

Exaggerated: Relies on achievement as the only legitimate source of motivation and satisfaction; rigidly holds out for the ideal no matter what the cost or consequence; gets lost in unimportant details and misses the window of opportunity

Collapsed: Avoids opposition and approval; lowers standards and “dumbs down”; gives in prematurely, pretending not to know what he or she does know; feigns contentment with status quo to fit in and make others feel comfortable

Does one of these extremes sound familiar (I identify strongly with the collapsed description)? Jacobsen offers a detailed strategy for ending what she calls the “perfectionism/procrastination seesaw” that involves learning how to make better decisions and set good goals. I plan to try them on for size, and, in a later post, I’ll report on my experience.

Blogging every day not only helps me to understand myself and my writing, it is helping me to find that healthy balance between an exaggerated and a collapsed drive to perfect. While I could go on and on about this topic, I’m going to call this post “good enough” rather than perfect and end with a few good resources on perfectionism.

What is your experience with perfectionism?

Do you feel the drive to perfect in some or all aspects of your life?

How does it affect your writing?

Tomorrow’s P Post: Prioritizing

Perfectionism Resources

A must-see (or must-see-again) talk by author Elizabeth Gilbert: “[D]on’t be afraid. Don’t be daunted. Just do your job. Continue to show up for your piece of it, whatever that might be.”

Five Battle Strategies for Winning the War on Perfectionism (by Zoey Martin, at Write to Done)

Perfectionism vs. Progress: When Is Good Good Enough? (by Jane Friedman, at Writer’s Digest)

Demystifying the Dissertation: Perfectionism I and Perfectionism II (by Peg Boyle Single, at Insider Higher Ed)

2 thoughts on “Blogging My Way Through Perfectionism

  1. Thanks for this stimulating post. A “healthy balance between an exaggerated and a collapsed drive to perfect” is a much more fruitful perception than simply judging our perfectionism as ‘bad.’

    In her article Where do you get perfectionism: From the inside out or the outside in?, Lisa Erickson, MS, LMHC writes, “Perfectionism is about passion, energy, and focus. The person may feel exhausted, tortured and frustrated, but the process can be interesting and rewarding, too.” But, she warns, there can be a “type of perfectionism rooted in having an impaired parent (or two).”

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