Moms have to do it all…or do they? When we understand the full cost of the choices we make, we are able to let go of perfectionism and better utilize our time and energy to focus on what matters most in life.
I am a perfectionist by nature. I like things neat and organized, and I abhor clutter. I even eat my Skittles in reverse rainbow order for goodness sake (I know, I’m weird).
In many ways, my perfectionism has served me well in life. I was always a good student in school, I had a successful career as a teacher, and I have a box of certificates and plaques for countless hours spent trying to produce the best possible work in any situation.
I will never forget the very last paper I wrote in college–a ten-page analysis of three dystopian novels–for my senior English course. The day before it was due, I only had two pages written (and a slew of notecards), and I was bracing for an all-nighter. A friend of mine tried to convince me that I should just throw together a mediocre paper and be done with it. After all, he reasoned, if I could do just enough to get a C on the paper, I’d still get an A in the class. So, why kill myself to do more? But I couldn’t bring myself to turn in something less than my best effort…especially my last paper…so I spent until 7:00 a.m. the next morning writing, re-writing, and editing. Bleary-eyed, I went to class the next day and presented my research and analysis, and I got an A on the paper. And do you know what? I got an A in the class…just like I would have gotten if I had gotten a C on the paper.
Was it worth the effort and the lack of sleep? I’m still not sure. I’m proud of that writing, and I’m glad I was able to walk out of my university knowing I gave it all I had. However, the older I get, the more I’m realizing that there needs to be balance in all things.
The problem with perfection
You see, there is a problem with perfectionism–especially in motherhood.
Motherhood isn’t orderly or predictable. It comes with lots of clutter, sleep-deprivation, and last-minute changes of plans. For a perfectionist like me, that is HARD. You see, I’m a good planner, and I want things to go according to plan. I have a schedule. I have a to-do list. I know what I “should” be able to accomplish each day if everything happens the way I’ve planned it.
But that’s not realistic in motherhood (or life in general, really), and so I sometimes end up frustrated and disappointed. Maybe one day my two-year-old refuses to nap, or the boys totally do not get engaged in the really fun activity I had planned, or I can’t find the right kind of glue at the store, or WHATEVER. Stuff goes wrong. It’s just the way life is…especially when your life involves some super-adorable-but-completely-unpredictable little people. Life isn’t perfect. But does that mean I can’t be happy?
In The Problem with Perfectionism, Trish Blackwell explains that “Perfection doesn’t exist. The fact that we true to pursue it anyways is the sign that we are living in the quest of approval or affirmation rather than in the pursuit of living well itself.” Ouch. How often am I trying to be “perfect” not because it really brings me joy but because I worry about how I will appear to others?
According to Blackwell, perfectionists tend to have guilt about underachieving, feel stress about needing to do “everything”, get wrapped up in the details of a project at the expense of the overall outcome, and they often don’t fully enjoy the present because they are always looking for a “more perfect” future.
Oops. That’s totally me.
Blackwell continues, “The perfectionist’s response to anxiety is to work harder and accomplish more and more.”
Yep, still me. (Oh, it’s you, too? At least we’re in this together.)
Or at least it used to be me, and sometimes I still get on the crazy merry-go-round for a little while before I catch myself and make myself stop. Because there is a better way to live than to work and work, and do more and more, and give and give until we work ourselves right into an emotional breakdown.
Learning to be “satisficient”
A few years ago, my sister changed the way I view perfection. She introduced me to the word “satisficient,” which is her made up combination of the words satisfactory and efficient.
She and I define it as doing something in such a way that it is satisfactory to the point of being efficient. It doesn’t mean that you do a poor job at anything. It just means that you make a value judgement about when you’ve reached the point at which the effort you’re putting in is no longer worth the amount of improvement in the result you’re achieving.
You consider the opportunity cost.
Remember back to high school economics? Waaaay back? Opportunity cost is “a benefit, profit, or value of something that must be given up to acquire or achieve something else. Since every resource (land, money, time, etc.) can be put to alternative uses, every action, choice, or decision has an associated opportunity cost.” (source)
Some costs are measured in dollars. Others are measured in time, memories, happiness, relationships, etc. Every choice has a cost.
If I choose to have a perfectly clean house, what do I give up in exchange? Time that I could have spent playing with my kids or pursuing a hobby? Money to hire someone else to clean it that could have been spent on something else?
If I choose to sew a quilt for a baby shower gift instead of just buying a gift at the store, what have I paid for it in time, energy, and stress?
One choice isn’t inherently better than the other, but I will be happier when I make a decision that is consistent with my goals and values. This means that we need to be asking ourselves every day what really matters to us.
I cannot do everything, and I certainly can’t do everything perfectly. That’s the beauty of being satisficient. I don’t try to do everything perfectly anymore. Instead, I strive to be efficient.
And that, I’m realizing, is a better kind of “perfect”. It’s finding balance and being able to let go of the desire to make it just a little bit better.
Think about your day today. What have you spent your time on? Do the things you did today make you happy?
Try to find an area of your life where you can save yourself a little time and energy by striving for “satisficient” instead of perfect.
P.S. – Please don’t stress over making “perfect” use of your time (I know you were starting to worry about it). Just make an effort to be more mindful of what you are paying in time, energy, and stress for all the many things you strive to accomplish in life. It’s about stressing LESS about the things we don’t accomplish and recognizing the value in the things we ARE doing for ourselves and our families. Little changes in perspective can make a big difference!
Do struggle with perfectionism? What do you think of aiming for “satisficient” instead of perfect?