Brave Writer Podcast: The Scourge of Perfectionism
Today we’re going to look at the habit of perfectionism. We all know, deep down, that we have to let go of this compulsion to do things right on the first try, if we want to get better at living a satisfying life. So if we all know that, why do so many of us have this bad habit?
To figure that out, we’re going to explore the different dynamics of perfectionism, look at the topic through a new lens, and come up with some more tools for letting go of the things that just don’t work for us.
When is perfectionism actually appropriate?
Surgery, decontamination, war, banking, construction – these are all situations where perfectionism is not only appropriate, but desired.
But in these situations where perfection is appropriate, it’s usually about protecting life or ensuring safety. If somebody’s life is in your hands, you better do it right – and that is the only time we want you to pursue perfection!
How does our culture affect our mindset around perfection?
Western society generally has a linear approach to understanding the world: There’s a beginning, an end, and goals to be met along that line. In a theological and philosophical sense, this approach is “teleological” – meaning there’s a final cause, an end from the design.
In comparison, the Eastern mindset is more circular and process oriented, as opposed to product oriented.
Both of these mindsets have value – one isn’t better than the other – but when we’re thinking about our homeschools and ourselves, we should try to maintain a balance.
Perfectionism becomes a problem for us because we tend to use perfectionism to measure goals, and we let go of the process orientation of relationships whenever we focus exclusively on goals.
And why did we bring our children’s education into the home, anyway? Because we wanted a better relationship, and we wanted learning to be a process!
Psychology Today also offers an interesting definition of perfectionism:
“For perfectionists, life is an endless report card on accomplishments or looks. It’s a fast and enduring track to unhappiness, and perfectionism is often accompanied by depression and eating disorders. What makes perfectionism so toxic is that while those in its grip desire success, they are most focused on avoiding failure, so theirs is a negative orientation. And love isn’t a refuge; in fact, it feels way too conditional on performance. Perfection, of course, is an abstraction, an impossibility in reality, and often it leads to procrastination. There is a difference between striving for excellence and demanding perfection. The need for perfection is usually transmitted in small ways from parents to children, some as silent as a raised eyebrow over a B rather than an A.”
This definition brings up an important point: Perfectionism is about failure, not success. It’s about constantly beating back failure, and that’s not a productive way to approach the learning process. But by proactively identifying successes, we can actually start to cure perfectionism.
5 Symptoms of Perfectionism in Your Homeschool
- Your goals are too high. One of the problems in homeschool is that few of us have been trained in education, and we don’t have a classroom of twenty-five kids to help us evaluate our kids. Homeschool communities (online or local) are helpful here because they give you the opportunity to talk to parents of kids who are the same ages as your kids.
- Unreachable goals lead to unrealistic expectations, which create a tendency towards perfectionism. You have to consider what is realistic about your family, your personality, your children’s aptitude, and what you know about homeschooling. Caution: do not compare your children to public school children! They are on a different system, and their outcomes will not be identical. Comparison is a trap – recognize that you’re working on individuals.
- Image over substance. Are you addicted to Pinterest or Instagram for homeschooling? Many of us are. But if we spend too much time on these platforms, we can suddenly find ourselves hating our house, our exercise program, or even our homeschool! You can’t compare your regular life to the perfect image, carefully crafted for social media. Remember: comparison is a trap.
- Endless Quest Syndrome, or when you’re always chasing that shiny thing that’s not quite happening yet in your homeschool. This is why we generally recommend focusing on one thing at a time, because our tendency is to try something new or “better” before we fully take advantage of the first thing. One of the ways this shows up in homeschool is the purchasing of new curriculum all the time, without really enjoying and maximizing what we already have.
- Outside-In Thinking is when you are focused on what other people see about you, instead of how you feel about you. You are going to see a mess! That’s what homeschool is, and there is not a homeschool parent who hasn’t lived your life. We’re telling you right now: there is no one “doing it right.”
Remedies for Perfectionism
The first thing to know about these remedies is that they cannot be done perfectly! We had to say that at the beginning, otherwise you’re going to turn these remedies into a new criteria for self-loathing. And we’re not going to let that happen!
- We need self-awareness, and the key to growth here is gentleness and self- compassion. A great way to start is by making friends with your inner critic, to find out what’s underneath the criticism. Why are you putting pressure on your kids or yourself?
- Embrace the Eastern philosophy and practice mindfulness, which is simply the art of paying attention. When we do Poetry Teatime, we always tell parents to be at the table – fully inhabit your time with your children and be aware of all of your senses.
- Abiding in presence – meaning, at any given moment, focus on being present. If you need some help, try rooting your feet and reaching to the sky: imagine your feet being the bottom of a trunk, and roots going deep into the earth. Then take a deep breath and reach to the sky, imagining that the ground is holding you, the sky is covering you, and the universe surrounds you with protection, safety, and belonging.
- Take intelligent risks! Allow for failure and growth – that’s how you get wisdom, and wisdom is the fruit of intelligent risk taking. And we know that all of you are already BIG risk takers. How? You’re homeschooling your children! Only very brave people take that on, and that is YOU!