I've had a couple of experiences lately that have changed the way that I look at things, and I want to share them with you. I meet with a lot of clients that struggle with perfectionism, and I personally struggle with perfectionism. Just so we are on the same page, I want to give you the definition of perfectionism that I am thinking about when I discuss perfectionism. Brene Brown, one of my favorite researchers and authors, defines perfectionism:
Along with the striving for perfection, there is also a belief that if one is perfect, this will make other people happier. Guess what! This isn't true!!! Over the past couple of years I've learned just how untrue this is. I love to cook. My whole family loves to cook. My mom makes the best food, ask anyone. Everything is made from scratch and every bite tastes just as good as the next. So naturally when I finally had a household of my own, I would host dinners and invite people over to eat. Often I would find that my friends would belittle themselves when they saw the effort I had put into making a delicious meal. Although everyone always enjoyed the meal, I worried that people left my house feeling bad about themselves. That was obviously never my intent.
Flash forward to now. Recently, a friend invited me over for dinner. When I got to her house she told me, "We're just gonna have chicken nuggets." I was surprised. I don't recall having any judgmental thoughts but I think my surprise in and of itself was a judgement. I think the judgement was "You invited over guests, but didn't actually make something?" But here is the thing: I didn't have to worry about my kids not liking or not eating the meal. They devoured it! It didn't matter that the food wasn't fancy. I left her house feeling good. I didn't leave feeling anxious or embarrassed. I didn't experience a single negative emotion at her house because when she acted authentically she also gave me permission to be just who I am, a mother with picky eaters who is just trying to get through a meal in peace.
Similarly, I have noticed that young moms do a lot of apologizing for the mess in their houses. I like to have a clean house and I used to think that I prefer being in clean spaces. I think cleanliness and organization can lower anxiety. However, I've learned that when I visit cleaner or more perfect houses, I have to do more work. I have to worry about containing my children, so they don't break or ruin things. When I visit a home that looks lived in, I actually feel more calm because I know that my children are welcome.
These experiences have shown me on a personal level that when we try project perfection, we often make others more anxious and uncomfortable. We send an unintended message that they always need to bring their best and that their best should look pretty close to perfect. Now, this doesn't mean that we can't ever entertain, clean up our houses, or make an extravagant meal. Some of us will be brilliant at certain things and we don't need to burn a meal on purpose to not be so great at cooking. What it does mean is that we don't have to wait to invite people over until after we've cleaned the house. Or we can invite people over even if we don't have time to fix a fancy meal. We don't have to be perfect in order for someone to leave our house feeling better. It means that people will love us and feel loved by us even if we don't always have it all together. In fact, there will be more of us to love because we will have shown our whole selves and not just the part that looks perfect.