I vividly recall being 12 years old and learning to sew. I spread the crinkled pink fabric across the dining room table, and carefully pinned the multiple pattern pieces to the fabric. I was so proud of this huge accomplishment and with bright eyes sought out my (professionally trained home economics teacher) mother’s approval and accolades for my great work.
She took one look and required me to unpin every single piece to re-align it perfectly along the nap of the fabric. I was beyond devastated.
LESSON: Linda’s family of origin rule: “Nothing less than perfection is acceptable.”
Over the years my perfectionism has served me well and been a blessing. It enabled me to achieve at the level required to become and practice as a physician. At times, It has also been a curse. I, like everyone else, only have 24 hours per day to spend. When I’ve been compelled to complete everything I take on perfectly, whether it is writing up a new patient’s history, or pulling together an upcoming talk, I spend much longer than I’d hoped to, leaving limited time for restorative sleep, play, relaxation, exercise and spending time with those I love most.
The challenge is deciphering whether a task warrants ‘excellence‘ as defined by doing the best job in the time you have, or ‘perfection‘ as defined by taking as long as it takes to complete the job perfectly.
TIP: Give yourself permission to be NOT perfect. You’re more approachable to others and the laughter that ensues is good for the soul!
Early on in my academic career, my schedule dictated that I needed to arrive at the hospital in the ungodly early morning hours, I dressed in the dark and quietly slipped out leaving my husband and little ones sleeping peacefully.
Several hours later during rounds with the team, our social worker slipped an index card onto my clip board. I was confused. Her neat handwriting said, “Resources for the mis-matched.” I flipped it over and discovered a carefully written out listing of three different shoe stores within 5 miles of the medical center.” The entire team seemed to be holding their breath watching for my reaction. You could have heard a pin drop. Bewildered and a little slow on the uptake, I glanced down to discover to my horror that I had a navy blue shoe on my right foot and a black one on my left!
I smile to my core every time I think of that day and dear people who made up that team. We had such a laugh that day. So moral of the story. It’s good to NOT be perfect. Makes you more approachable and human. Besides, laughter is good for soul.
If you are afflicted by perfectionism, ask yourself where does this come from? Was it a family of origin rule, if so, maybe it’s time for a re-write.
Perfectionism is a blessing when you:
- Want to achieve all you must to get into medical school.
- Are a physician performing brain surgery.
- Are an architect or an engineer working on project plans.
Perfectionism can be a curse when it:
- Compels you to do everything to perfection, taking far too long on every task.
- Paralyzes you, and keeps you from courageously sharing your gifts with the world.
- Keeps you from efficiently accomplishing everything you need to get done.
- Robs you of time you’ll never get back that you could have spent playing, resting, taking care of yourself and making lasting memories with those you love.