Howdy had a grand plan the other day. He decided he wanted to create his own version of a Pokemon game. We cut up a bunch of cardstock for him to draw on and color. He started out disappointed because he knew he wouldn’t get the desired color effects he wanted with marker or colored pencil and he was a little leery of possibly making a mistake and leaving eraser marks but he took everything up stairs and got to work.
That lasted all of about ten minutes.
He came downstairs with tears in his eyes, frustration obvious. Here’s what he said:
“Mommy, something keeps happening to me upstairs. I’m trying to draw but something is making my body not do it and it’s making me lazy.”
Welcome to perfectionism, son.
I’ve known for years that he’s picked up that particular family trait from both his father and me, and I do my best to help him cope. What struck me about his words were how accurate a description they were. If you’re not a perfectionist (do I even know anyone who isn’t?) then let me explain. Being a perfectionist means that you don’t just keep trying something until you get it right. It means it has to be right from the get go, it has to be PERFECT from the start. If perfection can’t be guaranteed, why start? And so you procrastinate. There’s no point in starting something if you know it will be less than you imagine or expect.
I am well versed in the trials of perfectionism. I had my first stress related ulcer in the first grade–I was 7. I am now 30-something. It’s taken me years to identify my perfectionism, which areas it relates to (spelling, scrapbooking) and which it doesn’t (housekeeping, cooking), how to keep it reined it as much as possible and how to let some of it go. It took a long time to realize that I am a procrastinator BECAUSE I’m a perfectionist, not in spite of. So to hear Howdy be able to put words to what he’s feeling at so young as age, I’m heartened that we’ll be able to help him deal with the things that come along in life.
Knowing that life doesn’t have to be perfect and ISN’T perfect is a hard lesson to learn.