I was waiting on the far side of the counter at McDonald’s waiting for my tea order. As I leaned against the wall, I noticed that the topmost layer of food trays was slightly askew. I told myself NOT to fix it, even as my obsessively, compulsively directed hand reached out to push the trays into place, but I couldn’t help it. Just like I can’t stand it when my sweaters are not perfectly folded, my papers not neatly piled on my desk, or my blankets not doubled over into a perfect square. OCD? Maybe. But somehow, not OCD enough to wash those dishes in my sink, pick up the litter that my cat has flung across the room for the umpteenth time, or replace the day-old glass of water sitting on the table that she keeps drinking out of. It wouldn’t matter if the water in her bowl was freshly gathered every morning in the Swiss Alps by magical cat fairies. She’d rather drink the water in my glass. But I’m drifting. Let’s get this back on track.
Being a perfectionist sounds like it’s a good thing, but it really isn’t – like the Cadbury cream egg croissant-doughnut, deep dish pizza with a bacon crust, or bicycle shorts. Here are the top 12 signs that your perfectionistic tendencies are becoming unhealthy:
- When you delegate a task to someone, you expect it to be done perfectly. In fact, you would rather do something on your own than delegate it because you feel it’s the only way it’ll be done well.
- You’re absolutely terrified of making a mistake or of being criticized.
- When you look back on your life, you see only your failures. You’re constantly falling short of the expectations you set for yourself and the objectives you’re aiming for. You also have a hard time bouncing back from disappointment.
- You expect your partner, children, friends or colleagues to live up to every one of your expectations…and you’ve got a long, itemized and categorized list of them.
- You worry about what people think of you and place more value on other people’s opinion of you than your own. It really, really, obsessively bothers you if you find out that someone doesn’t like you.
- You believe other people will look down on you if you show your vulnerability and talk about your faults.
- You’re only proud of something you’ve done if your boss, colleagues, parents or friends praise you for it.
- You have trouble saying no to people, because you’re afraid of letting them down.
- You believe that a person has to be wealthy or attractive in order to be respected. You think that being perfect is the only way to protect you from being rejected (like having the perfect body).
- The idea of being considered “average” in anything terrifies or upsets you. Being called an average lover? Definitely bothersome. Being labeled an average parent? Absolutely shocking and hurtful. Being told you’re an average basketball player when you have absolutely no intention of being drafted in the NBA? Really not worth the fuss.
- You think the only way to encourage children to succeed is to be tough on them.
- You’ve missed deadlines at school or work because you felt an assignment just wasn’t good enough to hand in.
I’m all for setting challenging goals, being accountable for mistakes, or settling for better than just good enough. But when you’ve reached a point where you’re expecting flawlessness from a 3-year-old, taking on more work than you can handle because you don’t trust anyone to get it right, or fixing trays at McDonald’s, your perfectionism has reached an unhealthy point.
Here are some tips to help keep any perfectionism tendencies in check. This wisdom may not be omnipotent, but it’s damn near close. I kid, of course:
- Life is not black and white. Don’t approach a challenge or goal with an “all-or-nothing” attitude (“I have to get this promotion or else I’ll never be satisfied with my job.” “I have to get the perfect outfit for this occasion or I refuse to go.”). If you only see the outcome as a success or failure, you’re already sabotaging yourself.
- Set realistic goals. If it’s your resolution to stop world hunger in five years, climb Mount Everest on a roller-blades, and get Miley Cyrus to stop sticking her damn tongue out, then you’ll probably end up disappointed. The point is if you set your sights too high, your fall will be harder. Challenge yourself reasonably. Strive to do that extra mile on your daily jog, turn that C paper into a B, or my personal favorite, make a damn omelet without burning it or flipping it too early. Even if you don’t accomplish everything you set out to do, the fact that you tried is something to be proud of.
- Keep things in perspective. We’re constantly bombarded by the media with messages about what we should be: thin, toned, tanned, blond, popular, rich, successful, etc. Some people conclude that if they don’t live up to these expectations, they’ll be rejected and mocked. By allowing other people’s opinions to influence you, you’re forcing yourself to live up to their standards. Here’s the truth: In the end, it’s really only your opinion that matters.
- Remember that what is perfect is subjective. Ask five people what they consider the perfect life, and I can guarantee that you’ll get five different answers. Not everyone wants fame and fortune, a Mustang, a 24-inch waist, and 2.3 children. Even what we consider true beauty is constantly evolving. There is no black or white when it comes to perfection – it’s just a whole lot of gray.
- Do a little introspection. In many cases, people who point out flaws in others often do so to feel better about their own shortcomings. If you realize that you feel better about yourself when you rip into someone else for messing up, then the fault may lie in you. Try working on increasing your own self-esteem rather than bringing down someone else’s.