Slaying the Dragon of Perfectionism
For some of us, the holidays are a chance to reconnect around a table full of friends and family, For those saddled with perfectionism, though, holidays like Thanksgiving are a chance to go full-on Martha Stewart. The turkey has to come to the table, looking like a crew of stylists dressed it up for a photoshoot. And the table? If everyone there doesn’t have a handwritten place card and menu in front of them, big points off. Ditto an artfully arranged centerpiece, beautiful linens, and dazzling flatware. Who cares if the chef is ready to drop by the time the pies get to the table, as long they’re bedecked with wreaths of perfectly-browned pastry leaves?
So much of my professional time is spent helping leaders who bring this kind of impossible standard to work with them, every day. They’re typically stressed, fatigued, and constitutionally resistant to delegating – of letting go. And I’m good at helping them because I understand them – maybe a little too well. You see, I was a prisoner of perfectionism myself.
For many years I would make every effort to have our family Thanksgiving dinners Martha Stewart worthy. I bought every gadget, I read every book, I channeled my inner Martha and sweated every detail. In my mind, it was a gift of love and a point of pride. But the cost was my own sense of ease, as I recognized a little kernel of exasperation hidden in the heart of my satisfaction at another job well done. Why was I not enjoying the fruits of all this labor? Because I simply wasn’t present at my own party – not in any meaningful way. I loved these people, but there was no time to share laughter or fellowship with them because I was too busy in the kitchen, staging my camera-ready feast.
The day came when I stopped cold turkey. My mom had died, and I was in no shape to pull off the perfect meal. I had to take the advice I was so good at giving, and step back out of the spotlight and let others enjoy it. Our nieces and nephews stepped up and took over the event – and you know what, it was a pleasure watching these willing and skillful people take over the reins while I luxuriated in the novel perspective of being a guest. I put my feet up and had the first seriously relaxed good time I’d had at a family Thanksgiving for many years. Talk about liberating!
December is filled with opportunities to entertain, and if you’re in the thrall of perfectionism, I want you to know you’re not alone – and there is hope. As with so many things, the first step is admitting you have a problem – and the next step is letting go. Yes, it takes some doing to pry your fingers loose from ownership – but sharing it with those around you turns out to be a true gift to them, as well as to you. And you don’t even have to wrap it.