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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