I was the first born child and so more was expected of me than my brothers. Why, you might ask? Well, for one thing my parents were following the Dr. Spock rule book in those days and so were trying to do everything right, including expecting me to behave. Next came my brother. He received all the expectations of what my father wasn’t able to accomplish in his life, such as wanting to become a doctor. You see, my grandparents couldn’t afford to send my father to medical school so having to pay for his own education, Daddy took the lower road to pharmacy school. Now there isn’t anything wrong with a pharmacist profession; in fact he paid for my family’s welfare over the years with his working in a drug store, and then owning one. Don’t get me wrong, my father did well in his life. That said, he was determined that my brother would become a doctor. So brother number one had his path laid out for him from the moment of birth and luckily, he had the constitution to work for it and become a doctor.
Then came brother number two who arrived five years after me. At this point, already having two other children, my parents got a bit tired. And, being the “baby”, this brother was the rebel. Brother number two was determined to live his own life and didn’t want any part of the grand entrance that his sister and older brother were making. So he’s the farthest thing from a perfectionist. In fact, he’s operating in his own world. Back to my other brother and myself.
Coming into the world as child number one, my parents didn’t want me to be behind, so they put me ahead in school. Figure that one out? I was put into first grade seven months early making me quite young in the class rather than the alternative of being one of the oldest. That was their thinking at the time and it made sense to them. However, for me it meant spending almost six years trying to catch up. What it did do was teach me how to study because school work didn’t come easily to me. In the end, this bit of learning became quite handy when the other kids, who were having an easy time, didn’t learn the same skills finally hit the wall when they arrived in college. Meanwhile, I was really prepared since I already knew how to study what I didn’t understand.
Brother number two spends most of his early years trying to live up to my good example until he actually becomes a doctor and then moves way ahead of me. I was totally ok with that because I really understood that he was satisfying my father’s unspoken but clearly known objective. And, of course, although he went through great trials to reach his stride, he eventually began to make lots of money in a profession where being detail-oriented is very important. He’s at the far end of perfectionism also, so much so that when things aren’t working he buries his head in the sand as it’s too much for him to deal with. If it ain’t perfect, he can’t handle it. Sad really. But also as we know, money isn’t everything.
Now I did well in my life as I realized too that money doesn’t buy happiness when I tried to be perfect in my marriage and nothing I did would ever be enough. My ex-husband just wasn’t nice to me. It’s a long story and quite karmic. Lots of lessons were learned, one of which is that there is no such thing as perfection. No matter how hard you try, the holy grail of perfection just cannot be reached. If one is at work, the 80/20 rule normally applies – which is that about 80% is normally enough with the extra 20% taking way too long to reach and not adding that much more to the mix, unless we’re dealing with brain surgery or a lunar landing.
So whether we are trying to learn a dance, a sport, or comparing ourselves to someone else, we can never be perfect. We should never try to be perfect since it’s a losing battle, fraught with anxiety, grief, despair and self-doubt. If only I could dance better… if only I were thinner, if only I could keep the house cleaner….. I would be loved, prettier, better in some way and that would make me ok. If you don’t like yourself as you are now, then the bit more that you do won’t make any difference. Sure, there’s always room for study, improvement, learning more stuff; but not agonizing over it.
So here’s the punch line: When I go out and meet someone that cannot enjoy what they are doing because they are stuck in perfectionism, I can only feel sorry for them. If only one can love oneself for whom they/we are now and allow room to grow spiritually in all ways, then we are talking about personal development which is healthy. This is a lesson that many of us have had to learn in one way or another and to one degree or another. Let go of perfectionism and embrace the joy of just being you.