Being a Perfectionist

What is she doing, asked the the mere mortals watching as she picked one toothpick at a time, placing them on a small plate before presenting them to her guests. Being a perfectionist, said someone. While this may have seemed like an admirable quality, how many times have you come to a grinding halt at home or at work due to an obsessive compulsive perfectionist? Well, before I delve into the details of being a perfectionist, let me present my disclaimer in carefully chosen words: I am not going to give a professional opinion by any means. So let the discussion begin.

Is being a perfectionist always a good thing? Many of us may vigorously nod, and some may vehemently shake their heads. While being a perfectionist may bring out the best in you and ensure that the output of the task at hand is a beautifully executed one that will win you laurels, there are times when we just need to take it easy. Being a perfectionist can sometimes be a rather painful affair. And here’s why:

Self Doubt: When you are busy being a perfectionist every second of your life, you end up having doubts about yourself too – because perfectionism more often than not stems from a need for approval (not always, though). A vital part of being a perfectionist involves running a fine tooth comb over each and every detail, over and over again. Imagine setting the table for dinner and constantly changing the position of the cutlery and wondering if you can do better. Self doubt = Low Self esteem = Self deprecating mayhem. This can leave you constantly exhausted and anxious even as it has a bearing on your relationships personally, professionally and even socially. You feel like you constantly have to earn the right to be called special – something that comes from a deep sense of unrest as far as your self esteem is concerned.

Loss of Time: Which brings us to another precious matter – time. Time is a resource that can be lost in a matter of seconds – well, that is like stating the obvious. When you are being a perfectionist, you may find yourself losing track of time when you lose yourself in a task. Imagine having to go through hours of rehearsals for an important play so that each expression, each nuance and each word comes out flawlessly. Now there is nothing wrong with being a perfectionist in such a situation. This is your bread and butter or your favourite pass time we are talking about. But imagine brushing your hair until each strand of hair is just so. Or boiling the water and cooling it down only to boil it again until it is just perfect for your cup of tea. That is a bit much, don’t you think so?

Lack of Priorities: Many studies have shown that apart from time, being a perfectionist can also cause you to lose track of your priorities. When you become a serial perfectionist who needs to get every detail right, every single minute of the day, you end up leaving little time for yourself to actually pursue the things that matter. Being a perfectionist for a new fitness goal or a new career, may be good thing – when done in the right doses. And because being a perfectionist involves perfecting every move, you may find yourself abandoning entire tasks because you are convinced that you do not have the time to them in the most perfect manner. See a shape emerging? It is called the vicious circle.

Deep Sense of Guilt: When you insist of being a perfectionist, you end up harbouring a deep sense of guilt. You may feel guilty about not having enough time to play with your kids because you were too busy re arranging the pantry for the nth time. You may feel guilty that you have not been able to attend to most of your tasks because perfecting just a few took up most of your day. You may feel guilty that you are not being able to do things perfectly. And the list goes on and on. So among other things, guilt is a serious side effect of being a perfectionist and one that you should probably not ignore. Dealing with guilt can become a life long hate affair with yourself and before you know it, you would have lost out on precious time that you could have spent with your loved ones instead of being a perfectionist.

Spontaneity – What’s that: Another massive problem that comes with being a perfectionist is that you end up giving up on all spontaneous forms of living. And still you are tired – not the satisfied kind of tired, but the constantly, staying awake at night, fighting sleep with thoughts running amok, tired. Someone who is busy being a perfectionist will have little time to take a dip in a river or a lake while out on a hike, because hello – there is a time limit and one has to get to the end of the trail by then, plus no dry clothes, plus this minus that multiplied with worry and divided in intent. So there goes spontaneity. Whatever happened to stopping and smelling the roses? Well, being a perfectionist entails stopping and trimming the entire rose bush before deciding that it was better off in another corner of the garden. Or maybe, why not create a new rose patch? With a trellis and a creeper? (Somebody stop me).

Romance goes for a Toss: Being a perfection may make you a bit of a nag. Your tolerance levels go from zero to minus if things are not done as per your standards. That is the truth of perfectionism and romance. In romance, when you are pledging your unconditional love for your partner, you cannot lay down a list of things 24 x 7, failing which your perfectionist soul will turn into a horn bearing devil, ready to attack and disintegrate the self esteem of the said partner. So being a perfectionist may not be that great for your romantic relationships. And imagine how scary you may look to someone when you are ensuring that your flowers stand just so in the vase, placed at the exact centre of your end table, just these many meters from the door (Stop, please stop!) Being a perfectionist may sound like you are obsessive, but it is difficult to find the line where the two merge. Not so good for romance!

So there you have it – the bottomless pit that comes with being a perfectionist. While it is great if you are being a perfectionist for most of the day, at work, and for some part of the day at home, it is not so great if that hinders your life and leaves you in a state where you are overwhelmed with side effects as mentioned above. If you are constantly experiencing one or more of these side effects, than being a perfectionist is not for you and you are obviously doing it wrong or over doing it!

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