One of the most common characteristics of individuals in gifted families is perfectionism. The ability to imagine wonderful things can be a strength. When a two-year old begins to walk, he can see how it’s done, but may be frustrated and angry that he can’t do it well. Nevertheless, she will keep trying until she masters the skill. Imagining a perfect world has been a challenge for every generation ever, fairly recently by John Lenin. When you go to the dentist or ophthalmologist, you want a perfectionist providing the services.
Unfortunately, perfectionism can be a problem, as well. In writing, it can cause hesitation or procrastination. In relationships, it can cause nagging or criticism. My own mother in her 90s wondered why none of her three children had become tech millionaires. I told her to look at what her children were doing – my younger brother was building low-income housing for the poor, I was teaching special education in public schools and technology in education at a nearby university, and my older brother was a database manager for a large corporation. We weren’t slackers! What my mother couldn’t see was the meaning our jobs gave our lives.
Artists and poets learn that the most perfect work of art is one that flows through their voice and addresses an issue everyone is concerned about. Trying to make a work perfect by other people’s standards is a recipe for failure.
In children, perfectionism can be crippling. I once tried to teach a class in crochet in a gifted summer class. One student was so upset when the first stitches were messy, she yelled and cried. Thankfully, I had the special ed background and could use the problem as a teachable moment. I validated her frustration and let the class know that it was okay to be frustrated. She was able to struggle through for a week, and was making regular stitches by the end of the week.
Psychology Today says there has been an increase in perfectionism in the last thirty years.(1) Possible causes are competition and social media. I would add the invasion of visual media, such as television and movies. Especially in urban areas, standards are high. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to work in a job where everyone takes pride in their work and works above and beyond the actual requirements. Waitstaff gets complaints if their orders aren’t taken promptly, drinks delivered, orders correct, delivered to the right person, and there is no waiting ever. Teachers get complaints if students are not learning as fast as the other kids, regardless of ability or motivation.
In my retirement, I love to quilt andI learned a saying when I joined a guild. The ladies and gentleman have taught me that “perfect is the enemy of finished.” Boy, did that help! My first two quilts were technically pretty bad, but I gave one to a friend who loves the colors and designs. The other keeps the cats from scratching my sofa. I called the first one, “The Medallion Quilt From Hell,” and it probably wasn’t a good idea to work on it before and after my mom’s death. The second is called “Crappy Scrappy; a.k.a. ‘Do You Even Think About Color?’” which is what my daughter said when she first saw the quilt. Now I can laugh when I see these quilts instead of noticing the flaws. I also ask my kids any time I want to give a quilt away and they have yet to refuse one of them. They, too, have learned to accept the imperfections. I hope I have taught them to accept their own imperfections as well.
This blog post is part of the Hoagies Blog Hop. www.HoagiesGifted.org/blog_hop_perfectionism.htm
1. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/perfectionism. Accessed 27 Oct 2018.