Concepts That Ruin Our Lives: on perfectionism

I don’t know about your country, but the summer holiday is over in the Czech Republic.

And I’m on the brink of burnout, like most mothers and parents around me.

My therapist told me yesterday that I am not the only mother who suddenly called her asking for a therapy session after many months without it.

Because the summer holiday is terrific when it begins, we all look forward to spending more time with our families during the holidays. But when it ends, we are exhausted, especially the freelancers. Being a freelancer also means there is no paid holiday for you, unlike for employees in the Czech Republic.


And with closed schools and kindergartens, it is a perfect recipe for burnout in your motherhood.

Today, I want to share with you three concepts that can easily lead to burnout and a little advice on how to deal with them.

The problem with these concepts is that they are considered virtues. We draw a thin line between toxic perfectionism and doing your best at what you love. 

Between being a good mother and a wannabe perfect mother.

The same applies to getting things done. There is a blurry line between trying to be as productive as possible and striving to get things done at all costs. Trying to get things done is suitable for your productivity but wrong for your soul because it can easily lead to hurrying up from one task to another and seeing your life as a project that needs to be done.

And what is wrong with perseverance? I revealed that in the last part of the second article, and you might be surprised. 

Perfectionism: Strive To Be Good – It Is Hard Enough

I have always considered myself a lazy mother. When I was pregnant with my first child, I read Tom Hodgkinson’s book on how to be an idle parent.

I don’t like cleaning, and I detest housework. My cooking is as good as it is and never gets better, and my kids can get untidy and dirty and stay dirty if they like.

However, in any job I have ever done, I was the first to hand in the tasks required, and my diary with different colours and functions for every day has frightened anyone who dared to look over my shoulder.

But during the treatment of my OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder, I have that, you might have noticed), I learned how to control my perfectionism while working.

But the snake slithered in through the doors I forgot to close; it crept into my motherhood.

I tried and still am trying to be a perfect mother at times.

And it makes me a terrible mother instead.

Because a good mother is better than a mother who tries to be perfect (and fails, inevitably).

Trying to be perfect leads to failure and burnout. You make people mad, scared, and guilty, not making you the best colleague or friend.

Even if you manage to be perfect, they are not, and you make them look bad next to you.

It applies to motherhood as well. Imagine you manage to become the perfect mother. What message do you send your children? You set up a model they will try to follow all their lives. Would you want a perfect mother for yourself now that you know it?

Children need to see us fall and get up at times. Teaching them that mistakes and blunders are acceptable is essential.

Nobody wants a perfect parent. We need parents who make mistakes.

Trying to be a perfect mother also brings up another challenge. How do you become perfect in a task that is not measurable?

So, let us stay with different endeavours for a time.

How trying to be perfect destroys our careers.

I am a freelance copywriter. And that means I have to hand in imperfect drafts of my writing to clients. I need to listen to their ideas first; I need to know if they like the direction of my thoughts. If I hand in a polished and perfect copy, I would have to redo it if I chose the wrong angle. I cannot allow myself to be perfect.

Also, the deadlines are tight sometimes, and clients like me deliver the job on time rather than living up to my standards of a perfect job.

And then there is money. I don’t take up meagerly paid gigs, but I had to at the beginning of my career. When clients pay lower rates, they usually expect lower quality (or should expect). I would go bankrupt if I tried to do the perfect job there.

So, I had to learn to hand in far-from-perfect texts.

But I know freelancers who cannot live with that. And they don’t advance in their careers.

How did I cope with my tendency to be perfect all the time?

Humility is the key.

Be humble enough to acknowledge the stage your career is in.

You cannot be the best in the beginning and at the end.

Chances are that it will never be perfect; accept it, but allow yourself to grow.

No matter how hard you try, you will consider your current projects inadequate two years from now.

And that is a good thing.

If, however, you try to be the best at all times, try now to hand in the perfect job, you might get stuck, never learn, and never grow.

It takes humility and practice in acceptance, which perfectionists lack the most.

But I try (and fail) and slowly grow.

This lesson applies not only to freelancers.

You might strive to deliver your best in every lesson as a school teacher but fail. Because the matter you work with are, well, humans. Little, messy, unorganized, and imperfect humans. No lesson will ever be perfect, and you will never be perfectly prepared; as soon as you learn that, you might love your job. Anyone who works with people realizes early in their career that they cannot be perfect.

As scary as it is for us who might need surgery one day, even surgeons must learn to live with their mistakes.

But let us return to motherhood because the lesson is more urgent there.

Do You Want To Be A Perfect Mother?

Perfectionism poses a problem for parents when children are born because there are no guidelines, manuals, or implicit ideals to live up to.

The good mother accepts that every child needs a different approach and must respect her limits.

The perfect mother desperately searches for some rules.

There are no rules for motherhood, as there are no rules for life.

How can you be perfect when you cannot define bad or good?

Who is a bad mother? A drinker? She might be a drinker, but she works hard and does her best to provide for the children on a tight budget and drinks in the evening. She might be a better mother than the wannabe perfect one.

Chances are that she drinks because she wants to be perfect, fails, and drinks to numb the guilt.

She may have ended up good without trying to be perfect.

But we don’t need to be so dramatic; let us stay with everyday examples.

You keep your flat tidy and cook the healthiest dinner, but your children complain that you never play with them. All the more, they want to get out and get messy.

You provide everything for their well-being, are always available, and what they lack are borders. They may end up in psychotherapy later, or you might now.

You are available, cook, clean, and do your best, and when tired, you snap. And they don’t get it. You are unpredictable. An unpredictable mother is the worst for a child’s development. Children raised by inconsistent mothers lack a sense of security and may develop anxiety later on.

They would be better served with a mother who is unavailable at times. Who snaps predictably in reaction to the same behaviour every day (as I always snap when they torment the dog or make obscene noises)?

The mother who openly tells them: “Kids, I am tired; I cannot play with you. I might be a little edgy today; try not to be too nasty, OK?”

The mother who tells them openly: “I don’t like to play this game. One round, and then we will do what I like, OK?”

Or the mother, God help me, who says: “Kids, I am in no mood to play; I want to read a book.”

(Wow, I must train the last phrase; it sounds like heaven and hell simultaneously).

So, the lesson here? Allow yourself to be imperfect at times. The chances of you being a good mother are much higher in that case than when you strive for perfection.

Because a perfect mother does not exist, thank God for that.

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