Why Perfectionism and Covid Don’t Mix
Covid Won’t Let You Be the Ultimate Perfectionist
Seeking perfection is rather inherent to being a Black woman in America. Like many others, my parents told me I had to be twice as good as White people from an early age. They programmed me to be the best at what I did to have any hope of being successful in life. Still, I didn’t realize I was a bit of a perfectionist until the dawn of Covid-19. One day deep into the pandemic, my husband stopped me and sternly said, “Everything doesn’t have to be perfect.” I don’t remember what I was doing specifically because, in retrospect, it was minute in the scheme of life’s big picture. His words made me take pause because he was right. Covid-19 preparations make a million life tasks harder as it is. Through no fault of my own, life couldn’t be more imperfect right now, but I was still forcing the issue. But why?
Women wear many hats and if we get “off-schedule” or disorganized for long, some of us believe it will lead to catastrophe. When things become off-kilter, perfectionists blame themselves, mostly, or sometimes people they love for contributing to the derailment of their best-laid plans. This includes being late, not helping enough with a task or the kids, or tinkering with a work project after they got it exactly right. I realized more keenly during Covid-19 that I was behaving like this and not liking myself for it.
All of humanity has bobbed and weaved in this pandemic for more than a year. Initially, I clung to any sense of normalcy and control I could amid unparalleled uncertainty. I was determined not to give in to my “Covid life.” I wrote daily checklists yet struggled to finish them. Pre-pandemic, my house was in order, my bills paid on time, I was rather particular about what I ate, and worked out regularly at the gym. Check, check, check.
Early on, I committed to following the CDC guidelines and sheltering in place. So, while I often felt rushed to get everything done, there was suddenly little need to rush to go anywhere or do anything anymore.
As Covid life set in and the months dragged on, I became irritable as my sleep debt rose from still trying to operate everything at 100% and frustrated that my “perfect” schedule crumbled. Compromises crept in. The escape to the gym was out, so mini online workouts with distracting, background sounds of home life were in. Dirty clothes sometimes sat on wash day. Every time I picked up a toy, another one seemed to appear magically. Uncleaned mail and Amazon packages started piling up in the garage.
I pride myself on my appearance but going to the hairdresser wasn’t in my comfort zone. Subpar DIY hair, eyebrows, and nails became an unwelcome reality. When I ventured out for essential needs, I hated selecting clothes I didn’t care about getting Covid crud on versus wearing clothes I enjoyed. I am usually punctual with bills, but was forgetting to pay them on time. The foods I once delighted in and insisted on were sometimes unavailable or inaccessible. And professionally, many of my friends and I confided that we hoped that we would still measure up while trying to keep pace with the dizzying speed of holding our personal ish together in a pandemic.
Pursuing perfection is antithetical to pursuing joy.
If perfectionism wasn’t real before Covid-19, it definitely was implausible after. There were too many variables. No matter how much I tried to be 100% with everything, I struggled. Striving for perfection has helped me accomplish much in life but it is an impossible burden to put on oneself. Still many do it.
Pursuing perfection is antithetical to pursuing joy. I realize that I’ve missed opportunities for happiness now more than ever by consuming myself with checklists and things that now seem so inconsequential. In light of all of the carnage left in Covid-19’s wake, serving dinner exactly on time isn’t going to make or break my family’s evening. Or maybe ensuring that the clothes are washed on a certain day and obsessing over the perfect words to end a story aren’t mission-critical. I think it’s fair to say one thing I miss most these days is relationships. Being physically close and loving to people are simple treasures I took for granted before the pandemic. It’s heart-wrenching not seeing my parents in another state. I never imagined going a year without seeing them.
I’ve learned that by stressing about constant perfection, I’ve lost precious time making soul-enhancing connections with myself and others. So it was time to make some changes. Here are the four changes I made.
- I’m intentional about what tasks, things, people, or work are meaningful and whether they are essential. I’m purposeful in doing what gives me true joy and adding more of those things to my life. I’ve come to terms that this will look different until Covid-19 is over. For instance, I love the spa but instead splurged on some amazing skin products instead.
- I use meditation apps to get me centered and relax more. I started setting more realistic goals. Having high aspirations is excellent, but I had to learn to give myself — and others — some grace if everything doesn’t go according to plan. I’m happier with myself, and others around me are, too.
- I started to be more accepting that unpredictable outcomes (imperfections) are part of life. It sounds simple, but for high-achievers it’s challenging. Happiness and self-worth aren’t dependent on always doing things right. Growth comes from finding the lesson in failure, then moving forward.
- I am actively grateful. By focusing on gratitude, I focus less on what’s wrong.
This pandemic forced our hands into contorting our lives in unimaginable ways. For now, I have to be more accepting that good is sometimes good enough, and I’m no less fabulous in my various roles as a result. While I’m still not perfect at forgoing perfectionism, I’m more purposeful about joy coming first.