Guest Post- Lisa Shafter on Perfection

I love this post from Lisa Shafter's blog about perfectionism- definitely worth the read! I'd highly recommend subscribing to her blog at www.thetravelingmandolin.blogspot.com- she writes about travel, writing, and anything else that strikes her fancy.

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If I had been born into a different family, I’m pretty sure I would have grown up to be OCD. Given the choice, I will sort my m&ms by color, keep the kitchen stove spotless, and straighten the card deck every time a new card is played. As a kid, I wanted everything— what I said, what I did, what everybody else said and did— to be perfect.

This tendency was (metaphorically) beaten out of me throughout my childhood. Mom made me give impromptu speeches in school, even though the uncertainty of unplanned speaking made me break down sobbing. My dad rearranged my entire room, including my carefully-crafted book corner, one afternoon when I was away. My brother Christian focused a good deal of his childhood energy on singing lyrics wrong, just to annoy me. And I always shared a room with my sister, who left her toys lying around even when I wanted a clean floor (and, to be fair, vice versa).

As a kid, sobbing into my pillow or yelling at my brother, I never could have guessed that those semi-traumatic events would be some of the biggest blessings of my life. I never could have guessed that the constant upsetting of my plans done my way in my time not only curbed my selfishness, but prepared my heart for my greatest adventures.

Perfectionism is dampening, even crippling. With rigid perfectionism you can’t create art (including writing), you can’t be open to new opportunities, and you certainly can’t get in a serious relationship with someone. Perfectionism is self-centered. It makes the world only as big as yourself, your expectations, and your standards.

So I give this challenge to all my perfectionist-tending friends: break free! Start small, with doing something you’re not good at. Solve a math problem. Draw a portrait. Break up a routine that you rely on. Let other people into your life. Let them mess up your plans and your systems. Let them explode your expectations, challenge your ideas, and drive you nuts. Let them capture your heart even though you are absolutely not going to get into a romantic relationship until you come back from Europe because that was the plan you made and you’re not going to let anybody mess it up! Let the illusion of control shatter.

What’s left after that? Freedom. Once you break free of perfectionism, there is creativity, spontaneity, flexibility and compromise. You forget about being self-centered and accomplish the impossible in a messy way. This is essential in art (which can and never will be perfect and takes forever to become even “good”), travel (where an open mind is key to a meaningful experience), and relationships (when you must look honestly at someone’s flaws and love him just the same).

Although I still battle perfectionist tendencies (and always will, I suspect), I’m grateful for my family, who let me know loud and clear that the universe did not revolve around me and my little expectations— the world is bigger than that. Thank goodness!

Transient