People constantly say that I’m a perfectionist; but whenever they say it, they make it sound like I have an enviable, positive trait. And after months of introspection, I began to understand that I am a perfectionist. But it’s not the beautiful, glamorous personality trait, it’s meant to seem like. It’s difficult to live with, difficult to handle, and even more difficult to overcome.
I recently came across a post titled: 11 Signs That You Are a Perfectionist. In this article, I’ve examined five of the most prominent signs, while adding a personal twist of my own.
1. There is no room for mistakes: This point is incredibly true and it doesn’t only apply to school work. It also applies to the painstaking way I make my bed, to the way I don’t allow any of my essays to have a single grammatical error, and to the careful way I communicate with strangers. Some would say that that’s a nice way to live. But it’s anything but nice; it’s painful, verging on devastating — because everything has to have a mistake or two embedded in it.
2. You have a very specific manner in which things should be done: I remember my evening schedule at boarding school. After school ended, I’d go straight to the library to do a bit of homework. After which I’d go back to the dorm, freshen up, wear more comfortable clothes, and head to the tuck shop. What I bought never deviated: it always had to be one grilled sandwich and two bottles of water (one chilled and one room temperature). And so on. Anything that would distract me from my schedule had to be ignored — whether it was a sudden bake sale, or a conversation with a few friends. I certainly got a lot of work done that way but it was still awfully monotonous and lonely.
3. You have an all-or-nothing approach: There’s either success or failure, excellence or mediocrity. When I started Class 11, that approach seemed to have intensified itself into a rage: to always get a perfect score in exams or tests, to play a piano piece to absolute perfection, to not have a single error in any assignment I’d work on. Not getting a perfect score would be upsetting, making a mistake in a piano piece would be humiliating and making a mistake in a paper would seem irredeemable. It’s either day or night — with no afternoon, no evening, no dawn. There would be black or white, with no greys and no colours. This led me to avoid doing many activities, or trying something from scratch. It was either perfection, or doing nothing at all.
4. Success is never enough: When I was in Class 10, I started submitting my poetry to different literary magazines. On the fourth day of submitting, my poem was accepted into one—my first ever. I was elated… for about five minutes. After that, I continued writing new poems, continued submitting, continued getting accepted or rejected (although it was mostly the latter). I could never be satisfied with what I had accomplished. It was almost as if the bar I’d set for myself would keep rising stealthily, never giving me the satisfaction and pleasure of reaching it. I was, and still am, entrenched in a petty game.
5. It’s all about the end result: So much for the phrase, “The joy is in the journey.” Even though I’ve come to focus more on the journey, rather than on the destination, I remember the times I’d only focus on the end of the road — rather than on the road itself. If I was in the process of writing a poem for my blog, I wouldn’t even acknowledge the process — it was only the ‘poem’ that mattered; the process including: finding inspiration, delving deeper into my individual thoughts, learning of and using new words, finding an appropriate structure and rhyme scheme, and ultimately writing it. I grow every time I write a poem or personal reflection—but my perfectionist tendencies would make me consciously ignore the way I’d have matured as a person.
6. You are extremely hard on yourself: Yes, I was extremely hard on myself. I wouldn’t let myself have fun, stop for chats, or indulge in a few movies every now and then. It was like the perfectionist side of my personality was constantly suppressing and disciplining the side of me that craved enjoyment and frivolity. And if something did go wrong in my daily routine, I would be completely thrown off course; it was almost incapacitating. So, I’d have to change my experiment topic, even though the deadline was nowhere near that day. I had other tasks to complete – but somehow, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to concentrate until I solved the other issue. And in retrospect, it doesn’t even seem like a big deal! But it had seemed like a massive issue then, which I’d ruminate over for a long, long time.
7. You constantly spot mistakes when others don’t see any: It is a lovely painting, but there is a smudge at the upper right corner. While people gape at the beauty of the canvas, I can only look at that smudge of blue and green paint which was certainly not meant to be there. When I listen to spoken word poetry, all I can notice are stutters, tiny errors in diction, or slightly prolonged pauses. While this tendency of mine is useful when it comes to my schoolwork, I’ve realised that it takes away most of the beauty of life.
8. You often spend copious amounts of time just to perfect something: In 2015, I had an oral presentation due in over two months. Most people hadn’t given it a thought. However, I had already finished scripting it, and had even started committing it to memory. I had initially thought that it was because I hate to procrastinate (although I do so most of the time). But now I know that it’s because I didn’t want there to be any room for error. Every aspect of the presentation had to be immaculate, smooth, absolutely flawless. I didn’t want to give anyone any room to criticise my efforts.
In conclusion, perfectionism isn’t glamorous. It’s an obstacle to happiness — which I now know is the reason we all live. So next time, don’t look at the one mark you lost; rather, look at the nine marks you gained. Don’t look at the time your finger slipped when playing the piano; look at the time your fingers danced in a show of harmony. Life is beautiful, and we just have to appreciate that.