Wednesday, March 4, 2015

confessions of a recovering perfectionist

For as long as I can remember, I have been a serious perfectionist. This translates into everything I do- my work, household, relationships and even hobbies. During my final year of High School I gave myself a mild case of lockjaw. As in, I was so stressed out, that for several weeks I couldn't open and close my jaw properly. 

For real. 

When I look back on this now, I actually find it a little bit funny. I was stressed, of course because I wanted to get the grades I needed to get into college. No matter that I eventually dropped out of college (to move halfway around the world) and in the end, it wasn't even so important what grades I got in High School.

Today, all these years later, I've got to say that not much has changed. These days my perfectionism shows up in slightly altered forms- the anxiety I feel when knitting a gift or custom request for a family member (that the item won't fit, or they'll be somehow disappointed with it), the fact that most nights I cannot fall asleep before going through the house and putting everything back in it's rightful place, the truth that a carelessly-stated criticism can quite literally crush me.  

This all translates into a large amount of anxiety that sits in my gut most days, churning over and over itself and refusing to go away.

I remember back in the early days of Waldi and I, shortly after we got together. I think he was surprised by the amount of worry and stress I put myself through everyday over the smallest things, that in the end, aren't even that important. I remember, towards the end of yet another conversation where I was in tears because I couldn't hold up under the pressure, he said to me: "Ruth, you do know you don't have to live like this, don't you?"

you do know you don't have to live like this, don't you?

There are moments and days when this question still follows me- you know, the days where I'm obsessing about some small detail relating to something or other than I can't remember anymore. Because the truth is (and now I'm being completely honest) sometimes the answer to that question is no. Or at least, sometimes I live like the answer is no. 


Why exactly am I talking about all this today? I don't have any answers, haven't found any tricks to magically make my inner perfectionist disappear, or at least be quiet for an hour or two. But I have come far enough to admit that perfectionism is a mean boss to give control of your life and happiness to. And I don't want to live by his impossible idealism anymore. 

So. I am slowly trying to take my life back. To wrestle it from his clutched-fisted grip and claim the truth that I (yes, even me) am enough. 

And there are small victories. Like when I speak up in German, knowing my sentences are full of big, fat mistakes that the person I'm speaking to will need to sift through and put to order for me. Or, like recently, when I'm learning a new craft (spinning) that I am so unbelievably bad at, but I keep going anyways. Making the ugliest, most uneven and imperfect yarn AND even daring to enjoy the process. 

It's not the perfect answer- but I guess that's kind of the point. 


  1. I'm a fellow sufferer of perfectionism so I can commiserate with you. While I, too, try to overcome my perfectionist ways, I have also come to realize that my need to put things away, make something as beautiful as possible, or have order in my life keeps me happy and balanced so there's something valuable in that, too!

    1. Absolutely! I agree, there is value in having order and creating beauty. For me, the problem comes when I loose that balance and my perfectionism leads to unhealthy pressure and stress. Thanks for the reminder that these tendencies can be used for good!

  2. This post spoke a lot to me!
    I'm not sure I was born a perfectionist. But six years as an undergraduate studying French language and literature and then two years working self employed as a language teacher and translator certainly turned me into one! Although (thankfully) those perfectionist tendencies don't really rear their head in daily life, in my studies and then especially in my work life it found ample room to cause chaos!
    I've found learning to spin a wonderful way to learn to quieten my "inner critic". Through experience, I've learnt that I simply cannot produce yarn when I'm stressed or tired or pushing myself in anyway. The wheel and spindle only seem to respond when my muscles are relaxed and in turn I can only reach that place of calm when I completely unplug my head and just "go with it". My first yarns turned out far from "perfect" (you can see them here:
    But I was incredibly satisfied with them in all their nobbly-bobblyness, because I had made them from scratch! And the really funny thing is (and a lot of other experienced spinners will say the same) once you've "mastered' how to make perfect, even, smooth, fine yarn, there will come a time when you will wish with all your heart to be able to reproduce the more interesting (and often thicker) first yarns that you made without thinking when you started out!

    Wishing you very happy experiments in spinning and can't wait to see how you get on! And just remember - little and often is the best way to progress at the start! Fran xx

    1. thanks for your comment Fran, and for sharing your own experiences with perfectionism. Good to know that I'm not alone, although others struggle with it in different ways. I can see how being self employed could bring out your inner perfectionist. And learning a new language can be such a difficult (though empowering) experience. So encouraging to hear from an experienced spinner that it gets easier. I'm trying to love my imperfectly spun and uneven yarn, but it's a challenge for sure. It's also wonderful advice about spinning when you're calm that I'm going to try to take to heart.

      You're first yarns are beautiful- so neat to see how you progressed with each one.

  3. I can so relate, but I have learned in the past years how important it is to accept imperfection and let go and tell yourself again and again 'it's good enough, you're good enough'.
    I think living in a foreign country and having to learn and speak the language is one of the hardest lessons there is. You feel so helpless knowing you can't get the words out the way you like them and that everyone will hear your mistakes.
    The thing is - in your own ears it sounds much more jarring than in everyone elses. Everyone else is much more lenient than we ourselves are. So why not try to let go and be as kind to ourselves in that regard as everyone else is. Does that makes sense? It does in my head but putting it down in writing sounds confusing :)

    1. I used to have the words "I am enough" written on a little piece of paper hanging in my bathroom mirror- you're so right that it's important to tell ourselves this over and over again until we believe it. And that totally makes sense about speaking a new language! That's why learning German was such a helpful experience in embracing imperfection for me. I just had to get over my own fear of making mistakes because no one else minded at all!

    2. I love that idea of having a little reminder on the bathroom mirror! There was a little film going round a year or two ago where people put post-its with things like "You are so beautiful" on mirrors in public toilet etc. Such a lovely way to make someone smile :)