Friday, January 04, 2008

Perfect Storm ...

Yesterday, I read this post on Back in Skinny Jeans. I was drawn to that blog initially because of its title. Every woman can relate to the desire to get back into her skinny jeans. It was a Sex and the City storyline, and if it's part of SATC, that's proof positive that it's part of the female experience, right?

So I read Stephanie's post yesterday, part two of a three-part series, and saw a lot of myself in her words.

I'm not sure where perfectionism comes from. Logically, it would seem to develop from the outside, from expectations placed on us from a young age. But thinking back, I can't remember my parents saddling me with a list of demands of what I would accomplish. I was always encouraged and supported, told that I could be anything I wanted to be, not that I would be a doctor or a lawyer or that I'd go to Harvard. (Though, at various times throughout my childhood, I did think I'd become a doctor or a lawyer and I thought about going to Harvard.)

But my perfectionism seems to be of my own creation. Maybe it stems from watching my mom. Maybe it stems from an innate sense of the best way to do things.

Wherever it comes from, it's a blessing and a curse.

On the one hand, perfectionism pushes me to excel. On the other hand, it prevents me from really experiencing much of life.

I admire people who aren't afraid to fail or to look foolish or to make a mistake, people who just go for the gusto and take the leap. I marvel at their ability to just pick themselves up, shrug, and move on to the next thing. Where does that come from? Can I get it without a prescription?

The other day, Doreen played courier for me and delivered a gift to Angela. (They work together.) Angela popped up on IM to thank me and commented that she thought my package was wrapped professionally.

I laughed at that. People routinely tell me that my cookies look like they come from a bakery. (Though, frankly, my cookies look better than what comes from a bakery.) But wrapped gifts and cookies are produced by people. Keebler elves aren't churning out the selection at the bakery. Gifts aren't wrapped by magic. Actual human hands are involved.

So why doesn't everyone produce cookies and packages that look like Martha Stewart held a gun to their heads? I guess they're just less obsessive. And I think that's a good thing. In some ways, I wish I were them.

My father was here before Christmas, wrapping a couple gifts for my mom. Dad's wrapping is legendary in our family. It's endearing. Whereas Mom fusses with folding all the corners of the paper just so, making sure that the paper is tight to the box, trimming everything to size to eliminate any potential bulk, and carefully considering what color and texture of ribbon will best complement the chosen paper, Dad hacks off a piece of paper, wraps it around the box, folds the excess paper into bulky corners and flaps, tapes it all up, and slaps on a sticky bow (or two ... or three). Sometimes, he adds ribbons in different colors.

In the end, both packages are wrapped. The contents of both packages are concealed. But while Dad is getting on with his life, having a sandwich or taking a nap, mom is still fussing away.

Clearly, I am my mother's daughter. I like taking the time to wrap a package just so, to pick the perfect paper and center the pattern on the box, to fold everything neatly and tape it tightly into place, to select the right ribbon (it's usually curling ribbon and I usually use several colors that complement the theme of the paper), to affix the right tag in just the right place.

But why?

I tell myself that I do it for the gift recipient, that it's nice to receive a pretty package and that if I love them enough to buy them the gift in the first place that I love them enough to take the time to make it beautiful.

Does that mean that my dad doesn't love his family as much as my mom does because you couldn't poke your eye out on a corner of one of his packages?

Of course not. He's just one of those people who doesn't sweat the small stuff. God isn't in his details. Every year, he takes my nephews and niece shopping, individually, so they can buy gifts for their family. Part of the day's shopping excursion involves heading down to my parents' basement to wrap the loot. He helps the kids wrap and as a result, the kids' packages often look like Dad packages. My younger nephew commented to my mom this year that he's not good at wrapping presents. I suspect he was comparing mom-wrapped gifts to his own dad-assisted packages.

But it doesn't matter. No matter which paper is chosen or how it's folded, the packages are all wrapped with love.

So what's the point of this post? I really have no idea other than to give me the opportunity to think out loud about from whence comes my compulsion to be perfect. And to ponder what life would be like if I didn't tear up every envelope on which I make a tiny mistake.

Huh. I guess I'd have more time. I wonder what I'd do with it? Maybe I could read a few of these.


Anonymous Alison said...

I really related to Stephanie's post(s), too.

Not sure where my perfectionism comes from, but it's the root of a lot of my issues.

8:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

All of you: Read “When Good Enough Is Never Enough” by Steven Hendlin. You’ll get more insight than you ever hoped for into your perfectionistic tendencies – if you can handle it.

It was cited in an article on perfectionism in the Science section of the NYT a couple of weeks ago.

9:28 AM  
Anonymous Stephanie Quilao said...

Thanks for coming to read my posts Beth! I appreciate it. You ask a really good question: Where did our need for perfectionism come from? I think another good question to ask ourselves too is: Why do I continue to hold onto the need to behave perfectly? It took me a long time to finally let go. I discovered that I held on because I thought being perfect was the only way I could be loved. Flaws were not allowed. Boy was I wrong. The truth, our flaws and imperfections are part of what makes us interesting and unique. One of my favorite ad quotes, "Scars make better tattoos."

3:26 AM  

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