Lowering the Bar Confessions from a Recovering Perfectionist

A dear friend of mine sent me a self-help book she loved as it spoke to her on multiple levels. I read chapter after chapter in which the author, Shauna Niequest, writer, speaker, wife and mother of two worked on remaking her overly hectic life after experiencing mega burn-out.

Although I had empathy for the author, as I took in her story I could not relate to her situation. You see I am hawk-like about guarding my calendar from over-scheduling.  I pride myself on this because it’s one of the few things I did not have to learn the hard way.

About three-quarters of the way through the book, I found a chapter aimed directly at me. Yes, this one had my name on it. My author-guide talked about her incessant desire for perfection as she planned for a holiday she knew looked so much better in her mind’s eye than how the whole event would actually shake down. After much soul searching, the writer came to the conclusion she must choose, “present over perfect.”

As I read, sentences like “perfect has become as near a dirty word to me as hustle, prove, earn, complete and push,” popped up making sense. It all came to a crashing crescendo when she wrote, “Perfect and the hunt for it will ruin our lives.”

Okay, I give up. I’m guilty of trying to create the perfect this, or the perfect that, and day-after-day continually disappointing myself. When I go to bed at night and start counting my blessings, somehow the “Perfection Princess” who lives in my head starts recounting all the things that did not live up to her standards. Reading on I got some advice on how to turn my quest for perfection on it’s ear.











When the author professed, “It’s all about learning to show up and let ourselves be seen as we really are,” I thought wait a minute. If that means leaving the house without make-up, forget it. Not going to happen, at least not yet anyway.

Knowing I had to start somewhere, I chose entertaining. We invited another couple over for Saturday night dinner and drinks. Aha! Instead of spending hours scouring recipe books to design the perfect menu like I usually do, I opted for a simple rustic Italian dish created in the slow cooker. I really blew the lights out on dessert. Finding a cool creation on Pinterest involving store bought ice cream sandwiches and whipped cream, I put it together in under seven minutes.










The evening went well. Simple as the menu was, my guests ate with gusto. We all relaxed and enjoyed just being together over food and wine. When dessert was served I must admit, it looked like something a 3rd grader cooked up. But guess what? I didn’t care. It provided my guests with fits of laughter and some really good bites.

So cheers to “present over perfect.” I’m getting there. If you can relate to any of this, let me know and I’ll send you the recipe.

Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear your comments on how you deal with perfectionism.

9 thoughts to “Lowering the Bar Confessions from a Recovering Perfectionist

  1. I loved reading how the book impacted you and was pleased to know that it added value for your life. So glad to know that you relaxed and really enjoyed your dinner party. As a Christian woman who has juggled marriage, divorce, 2nd marriage, kids, grandkids, intense work environments, church work, and perfectionism, it really spoke to me on so many levels. Thank you for sharing it for your audience.

  2. That hit my Virgo perfectionist body in the solar plexus. It is a daily battle between doing my absolute best, or do what it takes to make me happy and others around me without playing the perfectionist card. Sometimes I mouth it but convince myself that it doesn’t have to happen, even though I said it. Of course, it is much easier now that I am retired instead of solving clients real estate problems, and spend my days writing, editing my less than perfect writing, and working out at the gym. If I have ten notches to perfection, I can live with 8 or so and be happy, sleep nine hours, and awake knowing the new day will not be perfect for anybody. Good article, Sunny.

  3. Well, Sunny you’ve inspired me to come up with my own revised thoughts on perfectionism. I’ve struggled with it to the point of being frozen in my tracks because I couldn’t see a way to accomplish it. So here goes:
    P – Present – just making sure to show up
    E – Early – striving not to be late which causes me stress and doesn’t honor others
    R – Relationships – focusing on the fact that’s what others will remember
    F – Flexible – going with the flow; releasing expectations
    E – Eagle – soaring above the drama and enjoying the beauty of how things just ARE
    C – Creative – adding those touches because I enjoy it, not because I need to impress
    T – Trustworthiness – above ALL – exhibit it, attract it, and rest in the peace of mind it produces

  4. What a “Perfect” book to keep us in the “present”. I’m a semi-“perfectionist” who prefers to think I’m not!! But my actions and words indicate otherwise. Just ask my husband.

    There is much to be said about not having things be 100% of whatever the expectations…Caren above stated the start of the “recovery” process quite “perfect”.

    Thank you Sunny, you hit it out of the ballpark as usual — now, about the 3rd grade dessert….

  5. I can imagine a little bit what it might be like – having to be perfect….,all the time. I for one, gave that up long ago, I took to heart all those seminars I went to that said we don’t have to do it all, that it’s ok to just show up, be accountable and enjoy life. Don’t sweat the small stuff, there is enough big stuff out there to get worked up about and bless Caren for her thoughts, they too are priceless! Just like you, Sunny Simon!

  6. You are still a ‘princess’!
    I grew up with a mom who wanted everything perfect and of course my dad was messy. So, I learned that it just isn’t worth trying to do. I am a neat-nick but don’t fret about it.
    There are other areas of my life I may need to look at though. Gets me thinking.

  7. Sunny, well I am a born messy. I have to really really work hard on being organized which I have tried to do and believed that anybody that was worth anything was perfect. In my lifetime I’ve experienced burnout at least three or four times. You’d think I’d learn! Well. I did learn, I learned that creating simple memories and watching the enjoyment of it it’s far better. I have seen that a simple Weenie Roast at times can be far more joyful then an extensive prime rib dinner. I’ve seen and learned that simple words of endearment and encouragement are the gifts that can last forever. I just really wish that I had learned it sooner but I’m very grateful that that I learned it at all. Don’t get me wrong I still slide back, but seem to recover quickly. Thank you for your article I need all the reminders I can get. Merry Christmas

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