Extreme perfectionism can do two things to a person: it can either propel them forward into success, or it can paralyze them.
I have been a Perfectionist for over 29 years. As a child, I made my bed every day starting at age 3. My pink bedroom was meticulously organized right down to Barbie’s fancy shoe collection, and my laundry was always neat and put away. My childhood room mirrored my perfectionism; the powerful yet harrowing trait that clung to me in adolescence and still endures today as an adult, a wife, and a mother. My perfectionism is only a slice of who I am, but it can be all-consuming at times.
As the years have passed, perfectionism has taught me a few hard-hitting lessons. In college, for example, my Spanish professor told me that extreme perfectionism can do two things to a person: it can either propel them forward into success, or it can paralyze them. She placed me in the latter category along with a big fat “C” on my transcript.
You see, the thing about perfectionism is that it’s multifaceted; it doesn’t manifest itself the same in every person. In my case, living as a perfectionist hardly means that anything in my life is “perfect.” On the contrary, I’m guilty of putting off tasks altogether (procrastination) in fear of inadequacy. The “C” that I received in college Spanish did not reflect a lack of understanding; it reflected a handful of missing assignments that were quite exceptional in content (toot! toot!), but not fully completed.
Today as a new mom, my perfectionist tendencies can work as a force of opposition if not properly managed. By nature of the job, Motherhood is messy and dirty and sticky. And for someone who likes Life to be clean and neat and un-sticky, well, it was time to learn some new thinking and management skills. It was time to “let it go.”
Last July, I gave birth to a beautiful and healthy baby boy after a demanding struggle with infertility. It was also at that time that Life slapped me upside the head as if to say, “There is no time for this obsessive behavior now.” And Life was right. Life with a newborn dragged swiftly and there was no time to pick individual dust bunnies off the floor anymore. I would have to learn to relinquish some control. If not, it seemed, my circumstances would do it for me.
Upon reflection, learning to “let it go” started with conquering some dirty laundry (the literal kind that my son produces. The skeletons are tucked away with the Halloween décor…).
One evening, after an extra-long day of momming, I was sorting my son’s laundry in the basement. As I sat on the hard floor, hunched over from exhaustion, I yawned and rubbed my eyes. I removed each piece of clothing from the basket in a painstaking manner and began to organize by color. Blue, white, green, red, grey… when absently, I stopped. It was late, I was tired, and laundry was the last thing that I wanted to be doing that night. I looked at my neat piles of dirty laundry and swiftly balled them all together. White socks with a red shirt, “wash-on-cold” with “wash-on-hot.” I threw the giant mega-pile into the voracious mouth of the washing machine, dumped in a cupful of detergent, and slammed the lid. I stepped back and watched as the machine roared to life.
Up until that moment, I don’t recall a time when I’ve ever mixed laundry before. Ever. It goes against my very nature. What propelled my actions exactly, I’m not sure. But I think it involved a need for surrender. As I stood watching the slosh of the suds and listening to the gurgle of the drain, a sense of peace washed over me like the clean water in the machine. It was an “ahhh” moment; the tiniest act of letting go.
As a new mom, friends and family are always telling me to “take a load of” …and so I did. In the most literal of senses, I took a load off. And you know what? The clothes were just fine. Even more so? So was I.