If there was a support group for recovering perfectionists, I’d be its star member. Heck, I’d be the president. The NATIONAL president! And then I’d start the group all over the world.
I jest of course, but in a nutshell, that’s what my work ethic looked until about 10 years ago. Be the best. Be perfect in your perfection. Go big. Work as hard as you can. Sure, be a mom. Be perfect at that, too. Volunteer. Say “yes.” You can do it all.
My father was a pretty laissez-faire guy around work, so it wasn’t from him. He enjoyed his job, but he left his office at 5 pm and didn’t work after hours. He was also a pretty big Type B – life came, life went, he rolled with it. My mother, on the other hand, had had her academic and career dreams dashed when she became legally blind in her early 20s. As a frustrated housewife, my mother wanted me to be the first in the family to graduate from college. She wanted me to be a lawyer. She made sure I practiced the piano every day and did all my homework. When I’d bring home a paper with an A- on the top, she’d ask me questions like “What could you have done to make that better?” Being an obedient daughter, I’d spend hours trying to figure that out instead of being thrilled with my A-. I took to perfectionism like a fish takes to water.
Culturally in the 60s and 70s, Women’s Lib was everywhere. From Virginia Slims telling us we’d “Come a long way, Baby” to the Mary Tyler Moore show, young women were bombarded with images and words telling us that we could have any career we wanted to. Many books have written on the harm suffered by my generation trying to “have it all” as career women in the mold of men while simultaneously being mothers in our mother’s mold.
I lived in the crucible of those conflicting cultural messages, always doing my best. It nearly broke me. With a looming identity and health crisis over my head raining down drops of reality every day, I finally started to give in to taking care of myself and asking for help. I learned to say “no.” There was no other choice.
At my lowest point, I found Alexander Technique, which offered me a way to slow down mentally and physically. I could breathe and be Aware of the present moment. I could take the time to process my thoughts through the pause of Inhibition. In that moment, I could see choices that were presented to me and make a clear one to Direct my next set of actions. And I could do this over and over again, all day long, whenever I needed to. Choices were available to me. I just had to slow down enough to see them. Gradually, my work and my life started coming back into balance.
If I really did run that perfectionist’s support group, I’d teach them Alexander Technique.