While reading an article about a 30% rise in perfectionism I think about the number of times I’ve told my teenage daughter to be less demanding of herself, and then I realise I have rewritten this paragraph at least six times.
Once, in a woodwork class at school, I was asked to plane a piece of wood until it was flat. Striving for perfection, I planed it away completely until there was nothing left but wood shavings piled high on the floor.
For a while, I mistook perfection for a growth mindset but they are not the same. When I allowed myself to grow I tried, often failed, but learned something. Perfection has only ever stopped me pushing forward and ensured I couldn’t succeed.
I need to make a birthday cake for my son. For inspiration, I scroll through Instagram looking at the pictures of perfectly laminated croissant and professionally decorated three-tiered masterpieces, and I think about the cake I made once for my daughter with a handcrafted ballet dancer on top which was meant to be her but looked more like an otter having a stroke.
Perfectionism has given me the opportunity for self-criticism so often because of my almost inevitable inability to achieve it. I’ve tried many times to overpower it but I’m just not good enough.
Perfectionism is not something we learn or develop. It does not emerge because we work so hard that we must constantly increase our standards to meet our own and others expectations. Perfectionism is a personality thing, and it originates from a belief that we are not good enough, to begin with.
My daughter’s drive for perfection in herself has recently been mitigated by a new boyfriend. Now she spends time hanging out with him instead of studying, she naps in front of the TV and stays out late making me worry that she’s not getting enough sleep.
Struggling with the change I try to work out what I should do for the best. Rejoice in the fact that she is developing some work-life balance or try to instill some urgency by reminding her that there are only eight weeks until her exams? I don’t want to get it wrong.
After my carefully crafted speech, she pauses for a moment and I wonder if it is for effect, to make me think she’s taken it in. She has. “I’m still working hard dad. I just think it’s best I don’t put too much pressure on myself. It doesn’t seem to help”
I think about how it’s impossible to fix perfectionism completely, and that the best we can hope for is a little more self-acceptance. Then I get out the cake tins and acknowledge that whatever I create will probably not be photogenic but it will almost certainly taste good.