Saturday, February 19, 2011

A Perfect Mess

This week I had a very interesting discussion with a couple of very different people (who don't know each other) about perfection.

First, though, let me tell you something about me.  I am a classic over-achiever.

Shocking, I'm sure.

I made straight A's in high school and graduated from undergrad with a 3.92.  I was the kid who would be upset with a 95 instead of a 100. Seriously.  I remember a few times arguing with a teacher over those points that kept me from an A+.  The hardest part about this, was that I was (and still am) aware enough to realize how geeky that was, yet I still couldn't help myself.

As an adult, I see this classic trait in many areas of my life. In general, I don't think being an overachiever is necessarily a bad thing, but when the striving for perfection is coupled with a heavy dose of self-induced guilt, the only thing that follows is a perfect mess.

Let's take my nutrition, as an example.  I have been trying to lose a bit of my winter layer for the upcoming season.  I know exactly what I need to do, but in an effort to be "perfect" I tend to sabotage myself.  When I have "messed up", I toss the whole day out as ruined.  I ignore the fact that, most likely, I have eaten 90-95% clean, and focus entirely on the 5-10% "bad."  If I can't have 100%, I would rather have nothing, in most cases it seems.  Instead of enjoying a treat or a guilty pleasure, I rail myself about it and usually end up eating more bad stuff because the day has already been "ruined."  Now I completely realize this doesn't make ANY sense, and that is exactly what is so frustrating about the whole thing.

I sent Coach Mary an email the other day and mentioned that I had been inspired by one of her recent team emails where she shared with us about her own training trials and triumphs.  I told her that sometimes I think I might just not "want it badly enough."  If I did, why can't I just buckle down and get the job done?

She wrote back with this reply:

"I do know that you get very critical of Kelly. Kelly won't be perfect 100% of the time, neither is Mary. I took perfection off the table a long time ago. Everything that you need to achieve your goals is inside of you. You don't need to become stronger, fitter, faster, per se, because you are all of those things. Those qualities are within you. You just need to peel back the layers and allow them to surface sister."

Afterwards, I asked Coach to send me her therapy bill...

But really, take perfection off the table?  What if 90% was good enough?  What if I was okay with an A- or even a B+?  Does that mean I am settling?  Does that mean I'm not giving my best?  Absolutely not!  What it means is that there will be days (or weeks or months or years) that I give everything I have and it will not be perfect and that is okay.  Since when did giving it your all mean being perfect?

Mark and I had a similar conversation the other day, and he kindly reminded me that only one person was ever perfect (that would be Jesus), and he did not have kids.  Just sayin'...

The other person I spoke with about perfection in a different light was the counselor we take Ryan to.  I mentioned to her that he is very much a perfectionist and that leads to quite a bit of anxiety for him.  Hmmm...sound familiar?  I asked her how, as a perfectionist myself, I can help him?  I think in many ways, I drive him to this because of my own nature, and, of course, that makes me feel guilty because I am not being the perfect mother if I am doing this.  

Slap some sense into me, pretty please.

Do you want to know what she said to me?  This trained clinical social worker who has worked with countless clients, has years of expertise in dealing with special-needs kids and their parents.  She told me, and I quote: "You need to lighten up."

Why do I put so much pressure on myself to be the perfect everything?  Who really cares besides me?  Do I do it because I want other people to think I'm perfect?  The answer to that question is absolutely no.  I quit caring a long time ago about that.  I'm sure that this drive is part of my nature.  BUT, I can tame this beast called perfection.  God did not call me to be perfect.  From the beginning of days, He knew perfection was off the table, yet He still loves me.

The real question is, when will I start loving myself even if I am not an A+?


  1. Are you talking about me? It sure sounds exactly like me and my life.

  2. No easy seems to come with time and age.

  3. Kelly, before I even got down to Mark's comments, I was thinking the same thing, perfection goes out the window when kids come along. I think it's easy for non perfectionists (I'm not one, but not far from one if that is possible?) to say "lighten up", that's's how to do it that's hard. My only recommendation would be to just talk small steps, small goals and celebrate the victories as you go!

  4. What a great post. Came in perfect for me today since it was a nice day in the winter and I worked on the camper instead of working out. I'm so right beside you on your perfection position.

  5. GREAT post!

    Fellow perfectionist right here! I've struggled with it for years and I've come to the conclusion it will never NOT be a part of who I am and my life. I did however come to a sort of personal enlightenment, realization, or whatever you want to call it.

    A number of things in my life that I had no control over (but nonetheless thought I could control) went south a number of years ago; parents, friends, school, the whole spectrum. The ideal of my "perfect" life was taken like a rug out from under me. I'm sure you've heard plenty of times that it is your imperfections that make you perfect, the very things that are NOT perfect that are just that. I realized something one day - and I still remember this day vividly - that the word "imperfect" can be split into "I'm Perfect."

    Now, I strive for perfection in everything I do and I know that's just how I am, but ever since that day I've noticed that word play/trick, I've become much more relaxed about it. Now, will a simple mantra be the reason I win the Ironman? No. But it will give me the peace of mind to accept where I stand in the rankings up until the day that I do win.

    You can only achieve perfection once you accept that you have imperfections. "I am perfect through my imperfections."

    I know it sounds like a high school guidance counselor speech, but it's helped me through a LOT of times.

  6. First, I am pretty sure you and I are a bit alike. Just saying. At the very least in the I want to be perfect - sabotage the diet if I screw one thing up thing.

    Um.. I love Mary. She has that nailed.

    Hugs to you and very awesome post.

  7. Great post Kelly! Your self realization to the issue is what will help an that takes a pretty perfect person to be able to do that (-:

  8. Your blog regarding perfectionism was......uh perfect :) Hey, I'm your Mom and I know you aren't perfect, but I love you anyway...just saying:)

  9. What a great post. I wonder if the sport of triathlon lends itself to Type A, overachiever personalities. Funny that I know I won't ever win my age group, and I am ok with it, but I can't translate that acceptance to the rest of my life. I love the idea of taking perfection off the table. My mantra as a Mom is "pick your battles". Maybe they aren't doing things the way I would, but if it isn't hurting them or anyone else, do I have to correct it? When I got sick this November I learned to ask for help a lot more than I ever have before. Not saying I would be happy with a "B" now, but I'm a little better.

  10. Well done Kelly! That was quite the post! I appreciate you just the way you are.


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