2/10/11

"Perfect"

"Perfectionist" - unlike a backhanded compliment - often strikes me as a backhanded (or fronthanded? Is that possible?) insult. Because when someone calls you a perfectionist there is a sense of pride that comes with it. A sense of, "Yeah, I strive for perfection. What's wrong with that? There are worse things."

A few years ago I read, The Pursuit of Perfect by Tal Ben-Shahar, which diagnoses perfectionism not as a motivational force, but as a limiting frame of mind that manifests itself most fully in continual dissatisfaction. There is a distinct difference between perfectionism and healthy drive, and that disparity has made a world of difference in this perpetually-offending perfectionist's life.

Gordon College has a skilled group of counselors whose services are free to students. And let me make this clear: though these counselors do deal with issues of life and death, they are more regularly employed as listeners - as third parties who approach your problems with no bias and are not adversely effected by your excess baggage. In the autumn of 2009, a series of events (internship, rigorous academic program, engagement, etc.) left me stressed and searching for some sphere of control. One afternoon I opened my closet to a mess of clothes that made me physically ill. So I signed up for a session with Reid.

Reid was great. Though I normally dislike the idea of sharing my feelings and problems with a total stranger, I appreciated his separation from these feelings and problems. I liked that he listened. I liked that he didn't want to medicate me. I liked that he didn't ask me to come again, leaving it up to my judgment and not blowing up the issue.

And I didn't go again. Because when I left, Reid said (among maybe 5 other words I let him get in edgewise) something to the effect of, "I don't medicate for this because you will become frustrated with your inability to function at the level you function at now."

I don't want to be apathetic. I don't want to make the mistake of substituting false joy for real and momentary pain. I don't want to rely more on a temporary solution than on a God who created me with all of my talents and imperfections. This is not to say that there are not disorders and diseases that should be medicated - there absolutely are. But perfectionism is not full-blown OCD, it is a disorder that is remedied with constant reminders that life is broken, and that you are part of that.

I still like things clean. I still like my water filtered. I still want my clothes folded, the dishes put away and the toothpaste to be in its place. I don't like lint on the rug and the bed looks better if it's made. But on days when these daily concerns become large enough to cloud my perspective, God usually reminds me of how imperfect I and my surroundings truly are. He shows us something in our path that is better and more fulfilling.

On those days I will hurriedly read the news from my phone during wall-sits at the gym. I will eat lunch at the conference table at work or save thirty minutes to meet with a friend. I will call in to the nurse, admitting that I have been defeated by my cold. I will eat one too many dark chocolates and leave the dishes in the sink. I will accept that, despite all of our idiosyncrasies and failures, life is far too beautiful to spend in the pursuit of "perfect".

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