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­­­What’s the Opposite of Perfectionism?

photo: Benjamin Watson on flickr

photo: Benjamin Watson on flickr

If you’re like most people, you tend to get a little perfectionistic from time to time.

Or maybe “from time to time” isn’t specific enough for you.

How’s this:

You tend to get a little perfectionistic every day for approximately 14 hours.

Is that “perfect” enough for you?

I like to think of myself as a recovering perfectionist:

I still have the compulsion, but I don’t act on it as much as I used to.

I remember my college roommates teasing me about the way I wrote my papers.

This was back in the day when we used typewriters. (We also made our own shoes and walked 50 miles in the snow to get to school, but that’s another story.)

photo: Finding Josephine on flickr

photo: Finding Josephine on flickr

When it came time to write an assignment, I would pull out my trusty typewriter, roll in a piece of paper, and start plucking on the keys. My college typewriter came with two types of cartridges – one for ink and one for erasing mistakes.

And that’s where my problems started.

For one thing, I hated making mistakes. Why did my fingers suddenly go rogue and type a U where there should have been an Y? Didn’t my fingers know they were attached to a perfectionist, one who couldn’t bear to have anything less than a perfect placement of letters on the page?

And then there was the supposed eraser cartridge.

The smear cartridge was more like it.

Instead of erasing the mistakes, as it claimed to do, the smear cartridge coated the page with a flaky white substance, half-covering the letters and crying out for all to hear:

She messed up! Lookee here! You can still see the original letters – I only partially covered it, so you can still see!! She has no idea what she’s doing!! She is deeply, deeply flawed, and it is my job to draw attention to this fact!! You’re welcome!!

Instead of subjecting myself to the wrath and torment of the smear cartridge, I came up with another approach. If I made more than one or two mistakes, I would pull out the piece of paper and start over.

photo: Nico Kaiser on flickr

photo: Nico Kaiser on flickr

And this is where my roommates came in.

Upon viewing my anal-retentive tidy ways, they laughed. They teased me. They suggested that I was maybe, just a little, kinda sorta insane excessively neat.

I knew they were right. But I couldn’t help myself.

The smear cartridge was mean! Couldn’t they see that?

After graduation, I’d had enough of academics. I wanted to do something completely different, something to get me out of my head and into my body.

Which is why, a few years after graduation, I found myself running a farm.

(For more on my farm exploits, go here and here.)

The farm was on Cape Cod, Massachusetts and it had a proper Yankee name: Bourne Farm.

photo: David Egloff

photo: David Egloff

But to those of us who worked there, it had another name:

Tidy Acres.

I know what you’re thinking: My perfectionism followed me into my job as a farm manager and I had the tidiest farm on the planet. Our rows of corn were perfectly straight! Even the kernels on the corn were perfectly aligned!

Not quite.

It’s true that my perfectionism followed me to the farm. But the farm was different than college.

I was in charge of four acres, and it was my job to harvest our crops and deliver them to the farm stand down the road. In order to fulfill my mission, there was lots to do. Planting, fertilizing, mulching, weeding, pruning, harvesting.

Not so hard, right?

There was only one problem with this scenario. My little crew and I needed about 300 hours a week to get everything done. But we didn’t have 300 hours. We only had 40.

What’s an anal-retentive neat freak to do?!

In order to do my job, I had to get real.

I asked myself: What is the ultimate goal of this farm? And I answered (because when someone asks you a question, it’s polite to answer):

The ultimate goal of the farm is to deliver the produce to the farm stand.

photo: Darcy on flickr

photo: Darcy on flickr

This became my mantra. Whenever I looked out at a field full of weeds, weeds we didn’t have time to attend to, I remembered my ultimate goal.

And the weeds weren’t my only challenge. There were crooked rows. And plants we didn’t have time to prune. And crops we didn’t have time to fertilize. The smear cartridge had followed me to the farm, only now it was in the form of plants, plants that taunted and tormented me every time I looked at them!

But I persevered. I kept the goal in sight. We were in the business of growing vegetables and delivering them to the farm stand. That’s what mattered.

The name Tidy Acres came out of discussions with my friend Meg, who worked on the farm with me. I told her about my anal ways, and what I was doing to combat them. She came up with the name to both tease and support me.

And it worked. I was able to embrace the fact that our tidy farm was anything-but-tidy. But it was doing its job. And that’s what was important.

My experience at the farm helped kick me out of my super tidy ways. It helped me see that “perfect” is not all it’s cracked up to be. And it taught me to stretch beyond perfectionism to something even greater.

Which brings me to the title question of this post: What’s the opposite of perfectionism?

The opposite of perfectionism is Perfectionism.

And by adding the capital letter, I do not mean to imply a heavenly realm where there are no smear cartridges or weeds in the gardens.

photo: Anders Sandberg on flickr

photo: Anders Sandberg on flickr

The Perfectionism I’m talking about is right here, right now. It’s the Perfection of the supposedly-messy weeds. And our supposedly-messy lives. It’s the Perfection of the mistakes we make and the people we hurt, including ourselves.

It’s the Perfection that comes when we expand our view enough to see that there’s something Bigger going on, something that doesn’t care how straight the rows are, or that we made a mistake.

It’s a Perfection that loves us just as we are, right now. You can call it the Divine, or Spirit, or God. Or you can just call it love: love for yourself, love for others. It’s a relaxed, open view that makes room for everything and everyone. Even the “imperfect.”

And if you think about it, making room to love everyone and everything? It doesn’t get more Perfect than that.

photo: Schipulites on flickr

photo: Schipulites on flickr

What’s your experience with perfectionism? How do you expand into a wider view? Share your comments below!

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17 Responses to ­­­What’s the Opposite of Perfectionism?

  1. Sherry October 8, 2013 at 8:00 am #

    Z.

    A very good post of which I am most familiar. I am a perfectionist. There. I said it. And, like you, I am not as bad as I used to be. But, my perfectionist nature is always trying to rear its ugly head. It’s hard to stay on top of, isn’t it?

    Your Tidy Farm commentary reminds me of Wabi Sabi – the Japanese art of Wabi Sabi which is “Pared down to its barest essence, wabi-sabi is the Japanese art of finding beauty in imperfection and profundity in nature, of accepting the natural cycle of growth, decay, and death.” I just found that on a web-site.

    It’s ok not to be perfect.

    • Z Egloff October 8, 2013 at 11:39 am #

      Hi Sherry,

      Hello to a fellow recovering perfectionist! It’s a fun ride, isn’t it?

      I don’t know a lot about Wabi Sabi, but I have heard about it. It is not surprising to me that this approach is based in nature – always a great teacher of Truth. Perhaps there is a future blog post in there somewhere. . . .

      Thanks for you comment! :)

      XOZ

  2. Jo Lauer October 8, 2013 at 9:38 am #

    I like the “beauty in imperfection” part of Sherry’s reply. I’ve lived with “imperfection” my entire life with the gift of dyslexia (mild, for me). When I read your post, Z, I read, “Our rows of COWS were perfectly straight.” Now THAT made me laugh, which is how I’ve learned to respond to the frequent absurdities my brain hands me. I’ve truly come to experience (and appreciate) the way I take in information as unique, mostly amusing, sometimes frustrating…but always, as Edward says, “Just the way that I am, and just the way that I am not.” And so it is.

    • Z Egloff October 8, 2013 at 11:41 am #

      Hi Jo,

      Oh, this is awesome. For the record, our rows of COWS were always perfectly straight. Even their mooing was totally in line!

      It sounds like you have an extremely creative brain. Actually, I already knew this about you, but now I know it even more. Thank you for sharing your unique and Perfect self with us and with the world. :)

      XOZ

  3. Karen October 8, 2013 at 8:38 pm #

    Thanks, Z, for some wonderful chuckles where you marked out certain words and replaced them with milder ones. You have quite the sense of humor.

    I’ve tried to ease myself out of perfectionism, trick myself out of perfectionism, even threaten myself out of perfectionism. (That scared me.) I’ve also tried to go to the opposite end of the spectrum and be a complete careless slob. (That turned out poorly.) Finally, I’ve learned to appreciate my perfectionism, especially since I’ve hacked around in the world long enough to now know there are people who are far more perfectionistic than I am. I really like the way I’m organized, have high standards, and give things my best. As far as the down side of perfectionism, I find that as I stop thinking of that aspect, it seems far less daunting, far less of an issue.

    I love it that my closets are clean, my car gets serviced at 4,000 miles, and I wouldn’t THINK of ripping one of those tags off my mattress. :) And as I’ve come to accept, even enjoy, my own perfectionism, I’ve come to better accept the fact that most people aren’t quite on that same spotless page. That’s OK. I’ve learned from Abraham that variety truly is the spice of life and it also keeps everything in the cosmos spinning. I get to be me. They get to be them. And yes, it’s all darn perfect.

    • Z Egloff October 9, 2013 at 10:37 am #

      Hi Karen,

      I like that you point out the positive aspects of perfectionism. I am especially impressed by those tags on your mattress!

      I agree with you that variety is what it’s all about. Also, I like that you now enjoy those aspects of yourself that used to be problematic. Making the spotless parts work for you is wonderful.

      People at my old day-job used to marvel at the tidy state of my desk. But it made me happy. For them, keeping their desk that spiffy all the time probably would have made them miserable. So it’s all about balance. And variety. And the tags on the mattress. :)

      XOZ

  4. sally pain October 9, 2013 at 12:16 am #

    Is it searching for alignment, to have the cows or whatever lined up :-0
    We mismatch what we are aligning to maybe?

    • Z Egloff October 9, 2013 at 10:32 am #

      Hi Sally,

      I like this idea. It could be argued that the search for “perfect” (or at least perfect-looking) alignment in the physical realm is a reflection of our attempts to align with the Universe in general. But then we get hung up on the cows needing to look perfect. Which knocks us out of alignment. Tricky. :)

      XOZ

  5. Sally October 9, 2013 at 10:43 am #

    Looking for alignment externally rather than internally?

    • Z Egloff October 9, 2013 at 12:16 pm #

      Exactly! :)

  6. Aloha Lani November 9, 2013 at 3:54 pm #

    As a newly recovering anal retentive, your blog has provided much needed Spiritual Ex-Lax! (Reminding me to ReLax! Get Lax about expectations, get into Re-minding myself to get into my heart, where love, joy, peace & true acceptance abound!

    Not to say I’ve thrown in the towel (though admit to my ‘slob’ periods that come during intense times of overwhelm)… It means relaxing into what is… Stop resisting it! So I can shift back into a more loving feeling.

    That reminds of that song, something like: “I’ve lost that loving feeling…”. I could use that as a signal that perfectionism has visited again :-) !

    I love those moments where I have been blessed with experiencing Perfection… And yes, it feels like Love.
    <3

    And my sense is that looking for perfection is an attempt, albeit clumsy, to see Perfection! Doing our best to be aligned with the Perfection of Spirit, our Spirit, in Oneness with All.

    Thanks for another great blog & comments!

    P.S. In my paper writing days, my perfectionist tendencies led me to procrastination. I would pull an all nighter, scarfing down peanut M&Ms as I argued with the darn typewriter & that fakey smear cartridge!!! Luckily I was smart enough to have lots of paper (& M&Ms). Maybe that's how some of the Grad school 20's (or was it 40's?) came on. Ah yes, I remember now… Top Ramen & lack of exercise too. Other factors! :-)

    • Z Egloff November 12, 2013 at 12:41 pm #

      Aloha Lani!

      I love this – Spiritual Ex-Lax!! If only we could purchase this in drugstores across the land!

      I agree with you that relaxing into “what is” is a wonderful practice. So many things fall into place when we can do this.

      And I’m happy to know that you remember the smear cartridges!! Boy, talk about a spiritual teacher! I guess I can just be grateful for them now – they sure did teach me a lot!

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting! :)

      XOZ

  7. Marjorie Favuzzi November 12, 2013 at 12:58 pm #

    Thanks, Z. I so enjoy reading your blog and laughing along with the pictures you paint so perfectly.

    Perfectionism is biggie for those of us with ADHD, which includes me and many of my clients. It can cause us to procrastinate, due to fear of being judged as imperfect, unless we get the adrenaline rush of deadlines. Ahh, deadlines, a blessing and a curse. They kick procrastination in the butt and jumpstart our brains with adrenaline – so we’re in the zone and do a REALLY good job. However, we can also become so hyperfocused that we lose track of time and the need to eat, until we’re done, late for an appointment, and starving. At this point we should probably wear a warning sign.

    So here’s a way to TRICK our creative brains out of perfectionism mode:

    Set the timer for a specific length of time, either the time you have available or the time that it would take a ‘normal’ person to do the same task. The brain now says, “OK, we’re playing BEAT THE CLOCK!” and it forgets all about having to stress on being perfect. It seems too simple but it really works! Then we can get to the Perfection of allowing ourselves, our environment, and what we do, to be good enough, with Spirit expressing itself perfectly through us – just as the way we are and are not.

    • Z Egloff November 13, 2013 at 12:01 pm #

      Hi Marjorie,

      Thank you for passing on this great tip/technique. Anything that can be used to trick the often-debilitating effects of perfectionism is great to know about!

      For my own writing process, I allocate a set amount of time each weekday to write. No more, no less. This is similar in some ways to your suggestion. Because the time is set, I can just devote my time to the creative process, not worrying about outcome. I know some writers who set a certain number of words a day, and this works for them. Wouldn’t work for me! I prefer to just have the time to focus on the creative flow.

      Thank you for your comment! :)

      XOZ

  8. Aloha Lani November 15, 2013 at 7:12 pm #

    Hello Marjorie,
    Thanks for the tip!

    As a Type 1 Energy, getting out the door to arrive in time is extremely challenging for me…

    Have been late most of my life, which works in places like Latin America & Islands, where time is seen differently, but definitely harmful in friendships, work or appointments where they do value timeliness!

    My ADD type thinking, perfectionism & distractibility get in my way. Can become like a chicken without it’s head!

    And yes, I too often forget to eat… What’s weird is that “professionals” deny I have ADD. Yet to me, I have fit the symptoms, although now with Energy Typing by Carol Tuttle, she does describe the challenges of Type 1s as similar to creative, ADD behaviors…

    Not yet aware enough of how I spend the time that makes me late…
    So I will try your technique…
    Thanks!

  9. Rachel October 22, 2015 at 6:48 pm #

    Thanks so much
    What a wonderful invitation for freeing myself.
    I am trying to establish believe statements that are life giving.
    Clearly a pattern of perfectionism sits under most of what I do.
    So the teacher I was could never be good enough.
    The Parent I am – well you can imagine how that looks.
    The therapist that I am becoming if maintaining the status quo was setting herself up for failure.
    So here I am realising through the struggles of life that the gentle knock has become a bang because I just wasn’t listening.
    Thank you for putting your message and thoughts down so it looks so recognisable and manageable.
    What a lovely gift you give the world
    Love Rachel

    • Z Egloff October 23, 2015 at 11:34 am #

      Yes, the power of perfectionism can really lose its sting once we are aware of it – and start telling different stories. Thank you for your comment! And have fun remembering the bigger picture. :)

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