Organizing Theory & Artistry

Perfectionism Recap

It’s the end of the month and time to recap our discussion of perfectionism.

Arhat (Chinese: luohan), dated 1180 from the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. An arhat is a Buddhist deity who who has reached a stage of perfection through study and meditation. Photo by Didactohedron from the Wikimedia Commons.

I hope this month’s discussion has been as enlightening for you as it has been for me. Now that I am aware of the attitudes that define perfectionism, I am better able to evaluate numerous situations in my personal and professional life.

One of the most important quotes this month for me came from Hara Estroff Marano’s article, “Pitfalls of Perfectionism” that we discussed in the context of perfectionist parenting.

“[P]erfectionism is a crime against humanity. Adaptability is the characteristic that enables the species to survive—and if there’s one thing perfectionism does, it rigidifies behavior. It constricts people just when the fast-moving world requires more flexibility and comfort with ambiguity than ever. It turns people into success slaves.”

–Hara Estroff Marano, “Pitfalls of Perfectionism

I still have a lot to think about perfectionism. My current view is that we need “tempered perfectionism” in our lives. While in yoga class last Saturday standing in triangle pose, I had a moment where I thought, “Why am I doing this to myself?” and realized that I must be doing these difficult exercises in the belief that they are somehow the perfect means to strength and flexibility. In the right doses, perfectionism is a powerful motivator. Move a notch beyond the ideal dose of perfectionism, however, and we end up with rigidity, inflexibility, fear of failure and our creative powers suffer.

Going in to the Ruly Challenge this month, I knew that I have a lot of perfectionist tendencies but I was confident that I was confining my perfectionism just to expectations for myself. Wrong! As I reviewed my diary at the end of the month, I was shocked to see how often I was disappointed when I expected other people to act perfectly as well.

A recent conversation with my husband brought home two key examples of perfectionism for us. My husband was playing a game of tag with my youngest daughter around the kitchen island. It was adorable. “Let me grab the video camera!” I said. “No way!” he responded “This kitchen is too much of a mess!” This brought on a semi-heated discussion about perfectionism. I chastised my husband for believing that anyone watching the video would be thinking about what our kitchen looks like rather than enjoying a tender moment between father and daughter. He ultimately agreed that he was being ridiculous. He showed me to be ridiculous too, however, when he suggested we spend a day cleaning the kitchen together and I became upset that he did not offer the “perfect” suggestion of not spending an entire precious weekend day cleaning but rather spending a few hours cleaning and then doing something enjoyable as a family. We both had to laugh and learned a lot.

You see perfectionism at work in today’s business headlines as well. This weekend I was shopping at IKEA, one of my favorite stores. While I was looking up products on their website, I was surprised to find how many recalls their products have had. The current product recall list identifies hazards including “strangulation,” “laceration injury,” “injury to the head,” “choking hazard” and “flammability.” IKEA doesn’t hide these defects and puts a prominent link on the main U.S. page of their website. Strangely, these defects don’t seem to have harmed IKEA in any way. People still trust and like IKEA products very much. The fact that IKEA is so upfront about telling people about defects shows their commitment to safety. Also, IKEA’s products are generally so affordable that it is not a big deal to just throw something out and get a new one in the event of a defect.

Contrast IKEA with the current focus on Toyota’s gas pedal defect. It is my understanding that Toyota is not entirely sure why this defect is occurring and therefore doesn’t really know how to fix it. I find it interesting that people are absolutely unforgiving about this. While it could be that Toyota hid a known defect, it is also possible that something unknown happened or that it will never be fully understood why some cars have the defect and others don’t.

The Toyota recall shows an important aspect of human nature that when large amounts of money are involved more perfectionism is expected. For many people, Toyota’s mistake has become their mistake as well and they may be faced with losing money by purchasing another car or losing money on the sale of their defective car. Threatening people’s financial security puts people into hyper-control mode and perfectionism abounds. It is an important lesson to all of us that we can never guarantee perfection in any situation, even when we spend a lot of money, and that we should always have “Plan B” ready.

Finally, I wanted to give you the update on my amaryllis plants. The perfectionist plant featured in earlier blog posts, collapsed from exhaustion after putting out 4 perfect blooms. It is currently being supported by two wooden stakes and looks spent and sad. The other “Type B” plant has still not flowered yet but it has many lush green healthy leaves and is still going strong. Ruly Ruth might say the Type B plant is boring and the life of the perfectionist plant was dramatic and exciting. She might be right. I think we are all searching for that happy medium between perfectionism and mediocrity.

On Monday, we start a new month and a new theme. Please check back then and in the meantime, please feel free to share in the comments your thoughts on perfectionism.

Have a great weekend!