Perfectionism: The Fine Line Between Obsessive and Productive
Being a perfectionist sounds great until you stop being productive in favor of obsessing over unattainable perfection
I organize my closet by color, then by sleeve length. All of my clothes face the same direction, and nothing is falling off hangers or sitting on the floor. The hangers are all the same cedar brown with a metal hook.
I neatly segment and fold my workout tees, bras, undies, and sports bras in dresser drawers. I arrange leggings and jeans on a shelf by color and wash (denim) before folding and stacking them in perfectly straight piles.
I organize the few pairs of shoes I keep in the closet by heel height and then line them up with all the heels parallel to each other.
I fold the laundry for my household because the way my partner haphazardly folds and then throws his laundry in a drawer drives me crazy. I'm a fiend for organization and aesthetics, so I rearrange our kitchen cabinets frequently to make everything neat and well-organized.
I could go on and on about my neuroses, but I think you all get the point: I am a perfectionist.
Hi, I'm Sheena—a neurotic perfectionist and chaser of the impossible
For as long as I can remember, I had to be the best. I had to be the best softball and volleyball player on my team, I had to get the best grades, and I had to look the best.
Some say it's my subconscious compensating for thoughts I may have about being a foster kid. Others credit my perfectionism to my parents raising me to want to contribute meaningfully to society. I'm no psychologist, so I don't speculate, but I do know that I have always thought that the only way to be successful was to be perfect.
Sounds like a flawless formula for success, right? Nope! While this idea can be a powerful motivator, it can also turn us into controlling and obsessive humans. We chase what's unattainable and feel like nothing will ever be enough.
And when we focus more on being obsessively perfect than being productive, we cross the line from motivator to crippling.
From productive to obsessive
The irony of perfectionists is that the more we strive for absolute perfection, the farther we get from attaining it. Instead of looking at the bigger picture, we focus on every little detail, wasting hours trying to perfect something that, quite frankly, doesn't need to be perfect.
I have two half-written articles sitting in my drafts. I reworked them both a few times, deleted them, rewrote them from scratch, and then edited them again. I was never happy with either. I spent two days writing these blogs, and the result of obsessively tweaking them is 11 measly paragraphs that will probably never get published. Not so productive, huh?
My unpublished drafts are the perfect example of obsessive behavior that yields no results. I was laser-focused on creating an engaging, perfectly written blog post. Instead of creating something great (but not perfect), I tweaked them to death, and they both turned out to be shit.
My perfectionism cost me two articles, two days, and a lot of joy. It was an utter waste of time.
One of my biggest regrets is a direct result of my unproductive need to be perfect. I was a sophomore in college, taking an advanced Spanish class. I should have felt good about it because, instead of starting with Spanish 101, I skipped four courses based on test scores.
I earned a B in the class. That's a decent job, but not for a perfectionist. I didn't want any Bs on my otherwise flawless report card, so instead of taking one more Spanish class and earning a minor, I stopped taking Spanish altogether. All because a B wasn't good enough. 🤦🏻♀️
Perfectionism in the workplace
Perfection may be ingrained in me, but that's not to say that I can't grow. I earn my salary as a writer at a large tech company and as a contract writer on the side. Neither can wait days or weeks for perfectly written guides, landing pages, or blogs. They need content, and they need it now. I must be quick.
I want more than anything to mull over every word, but it's simply not an option. So, when I'm working or contracting with clients, I force myself to be productive instead of striving for something unattainable. I make sure I put out quality work, but it's not up to my standards (which, to be fair, are pretty unrealistic sometimes).
My perfectionism makes an appearance every so often. Sometimes it's in being a bit stubborn about how we word things. Other times, it's reading through what I wrote, five, eight, or even ten times before submitting it for review. But I always remember—I am working for a boss and clients who want quality work, not perfect work.
It all comes down to one thing. That thing is control. I am the only one who can decide that it's okay to be "good enough." It's okay to submit stellar work that isn't perfect. It's okay to value productivity over being perfect.
I'm still a work in progress but am slowly learning how to control my mind and allow myself to get comfortable with "good enough."