When people ask what I do for a living, I reply, “I am the C.R.P. of ThisTimeIMeanIt.com.” When further prompted what that stands for, I explain, “Chief Recovering Perfectionist.” Although I obviously chose that title to be playful, there’s an important reality at play.
We’ve all had periods where we felt we are settling for less than we could be. We’re disappointed, not only with “the way things are,” but also more importantly, with ourselves. It is only out of such frustration that action is born.
After all, no one wakes up one morning and says, “Wow! I love my life, let’s see how I can change it.” We change because we’re unhappy, often proclaiming, “TODAY will be my new dawn, my Genesis, my new beginning. TODAY is day one of the perfect new me; I’ll finish everything on my assignment list; I’ll clean the house; I’ll be the perfect spouse with the perfect attitude. I’ll be perfect on my diet and my budget; I’ll even find time to exercise. TODAY will be perfect.”
As exciting as that sounds in theory, the reality is when we then analyze the line-up of everything necessary to achieve such high standards, we grasp how much work it’s going to take and rationalize that we can always start TOMORROW; putting it off, choosing to accomplish nothing rather than something.
Aiming for perfection is not only a barrier to getting things done; it’s an excuse to avoid attempting them. After all, if my definition of success is to accomplish EVERYTHING - and logically I know that’s not going to happen - why even bother? I mean why attempt something I know I won’t accomplish? As the bumper sticker I saw in college said, “Flunk now, avoid the June rush.”
With that as preamble, there is a real-world example of how perfectionism is preventing societal improvement, and, in my opinion, causing future agony on yet unknown victims.
As I write this, we’re five days past the horrific, tragic, mass murder that took place in a Colorado movie theater. At this point, we do not know the motive of the alleged shooter nor the final count of casualties. What is certain is that he was wearing armor, planned the assault over time, and was carrying - among other weapons - an automatic rifle firing about 50 to 60 bullets a minute and that he purchased 6,000 rounds of ammo on the Internet.
Opinions about how to prevent future tragedies such as this are rampant. I have mine, as I’m sure you have yours. However, I broach this matter not so much as a proponent of tighter gun controls, but more as an observer of the thought process of many who are resistant to tougher rules overseeing assault weapons.
What I hear often is a “perfectionist” meme: “There is no way we can stop every mad man from walking into crowds and inflicting mass casualties. Ergo, why bother? It’s a waste of time.” As a recovering perfectionist, I hear, “If we can’t do it perfectly, why do anything? If we cannot stop all violent actions, why attempt to stop any?” I own up to simplifying the argument, but I also believe I’m representing the core assumption with accuracy. To me, this is real-world tragic evidence of perfectionism being a barrier (or excuse) to improvement.
Reasonable people can reasonably disagree as to the value or extent of gun or ammunition control, but whenever the parameters are “all or none,” the outcome will always be the status quo, and - especially in this case - that’s perfectly unacceptable to all sides.
About the author: Scott “Q” Marcus is the CRP (Chief Recovering Perfectionist) of www.ThisTimeIMeanIt.com, a website to support folks frustrated with making promises and ready to make a change in a supportive environment. Sign up for his free newsletter at the site or at facebook.com/thistimeimeanit. Contact him for coaching, consulting, workshops, and speaking at (707) 442-6243 or email@example.com. His first six years of these columns are now available on Amazon at http://amzn.to/StrivingBooks.