The Dangers of Perfection

The Universe has me thinking a lot about perfection lately.

Yesterday I was talking to Susan, and I mentioned how I was really torn with this revision about to be finished.  It’ll be out for a week or two with her and Claire.  Part of me wants to drive straight into ABL.  Part of me wants to piddle with my Christmas bunny since it’s shorter and something I can mostly pick up or put down at will.  And part of me wonders if I shouldn’t do that thing I never do and do nothing.  She said the more radical thing would be for me to just let whatever happened and not plan it.  Which, we all know, is like telling me not to breathe.  Because a) planning is my life preserver amid all the crazy and b) that whole rest thing makes me feel like I’m dropping the ball, falling behind, not moving toward my goal.  And of course I live in fear of Newton’s First Law of Motion: An object at rest will stay at rest unless acted upon by some outside force.  If I stop, who will get me going again?  The rate at which that idea makes me hyperventilate is probably directly proportional to exactly how much I need to actually do that whole stop and rest thing.

This morning I read an awesome post by Nia Shanks where she talks about the danger in perfection, and the stress that can be born of it.  She was talking about in nutrition and training (and I adore her because her entire philosophy for both is Keep It Simple, Keep It Sane–this should be on a coffee mug or Inspirational poster somewhere).  Certainly there have been some periods of my life when I was so stressed out about trying to eat healthy and stick to my calorie budget (which was all but impossible to do with various and sundry social engagements) that the mere sight of food I desperately wanted to eat almost sent me into tears because I wasn’t supposed to have it.  It made me stop enjoying said social engagements and want to burrow in and never leave the house because “nobody eats healthy and I just can’t take it”.  Thankfully, I’m no longer like that, and I’ve got a much healthier relationship with food (and I’ve learned that I can eat quite a bit more than that original calorie budget as long as I train right).

In a similar vein, I did a lot of mental damage to myself over the last couple of years, constantly stressing about writing more, pushing myself to up that word count, produce, produce, produce.  And it led to a crash of epic proportions when the book I spent 13 months pouring myself into turned out to be about as attractive as the early stages of a compost pile.  I could’ve used a different smelly, unattractive analogy, but compost is appropriate because it nourishes other things.  A different, better book is going to grow out of that mess at some point.  But the point is, I’ve spent most of this year recovering from that and valiantly trying to learn how to give myself a break, to accept that I can’t do everything all at once (despite my Wonder Woman time management skills) without things suffering.

I’ve had a really good reminder of that at work lately.  My boss used to work just for herself.  Then she had a staff of one.  Then two.  Now she has a staff of six.  She’s assistant director of our organization, on more committees than you can shake a stick at, lead researcher on several grants (which pay the salaries of the six of us and herself), and constantly has her fingers in all sorts of pies, both because she’s always on the look out for future funding opportunities (to keep us all paid) and also because she can’t say no.  Like, ever.  She has a flipping amazing PA–and she doesn’t use her.  She keeps trying to do everything herself.  And frankly, she’s really lousy at it.  With SO MUCH input, she can’t seem to properly prioritize, and she keeps going SQUIRREL whenever a new email or phone call comes in.  And with the recent start of our latest multi million dollar grant, that’s a lot.  This particular project has groups at multiple universities across the country, so we’re using all kinds of technological platforms to coordinate.  While they all make someone like me happy as a pig in slop, they’re totally overwhelming her (she’s analog and paper in a digital world).  Balls are getting dropped and we’re all getting ready to have an intervention.

I don’t wanna go back to being that kind of stressed.

There’s nothing wrong with pushing yourself.  There’s nothing wrong with the pursuit of excellence.  It’s admirable, even encouraged.  But I think it’s important to keep an eye on yourself to keep from crossing that line from excellence into perfectionism.  Perfect is an abstract construct that largely doesn’t exist, and pursuit of THAT in our very flawed world is the fodder for a really damaging kind of crazy, whether that applies to eating habits, training, writing, DOING, whatever.  Perfectionism leaves no room for bending, and we have to be able to bend or we’ll break.

So those are my semi-deep thoughts for the morning.

On a totally unrelated note, the Alan Wake score by Petri Alanko is flipping awesome.

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