Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Live Well/Life Lessons--Coming out of the Closet

I noted the irony as I read about Heather Lende, former perfectionist, completing her master's degree in fiction writing while "hunting and pecking" the article she submitted to Woman's Day concerning her perfectionist maladies.

My thoughts? Shouldn't a fiction writer know how to type like a pro?

I can't call myself a perfectionist because I've never done anything perfectly--with the exception of creative writing and I'm certain you'll find more than a few critics who will tell you my prose is far from perfect. However, I can tell you why it's perfect. I can explain it, summarize it, and write a 6-point paper on it.

That doesn't mean it's good. That means that I think it's good. That means I'm confident concerning one area in my life if nothing else, even though my room is littered with papers and clothing (clean or not--I'm never quite certain so I end up washing it all over again...). The other area I am confident in are my relationships, which is why inviting others to my home or pig sty never embarrasses me. The people in my life love me and while they may be in limbo about loving me, I love them. Two decades of living in a ministry family ingrained at least one thing: love your neighbor as yourself.

That said, writing skills saved me in any class that required a paper: I read the book two days before the paper was due, I skimmed the science journal and used fancy words to get a B. We graduated High School without the internet. I look back and I'm thoroughly impressed with myself now knowing I had severe ADHD and bipolar disorder all in one.

I guess I'm kind of a perfectionist at having learning disabilities too.

I guess I fibbed a little before when I mentioned I picked up one lesson while growing up in church. I also learned that at the heart of a number of issues is fear and shame. Perfectionism is not excluded. According to The University of Illinois there are several fear-based factors:

  • Fear of failure. Perfectionists often equate failure to achieve their goals with a lack of personal worth or value.
  • Fear of making mistakes. Perfectionists often equate mistakes with failure. In orienting their lives around avoiding mistakes, perfectionists miss opportunities to learn and grow.
  • Fear of disapproval. If they let others see their flaws, perfectionists often fear that they will no longer be accepted. Trying to be perfect is a way of trying to protect themselves from criticism, rejection, and disapproval.
  • All-or-none thinking. Perfectionists frequently believe that they are worthless if their accomplishments are not perfect. Perfectionists have difficulty seeing situations in perspective. For example, a straight “A” student who receives a “B” might believe, “I am a total failure.”
  • Overemphasis on “shoulds.” Perfectionists’ lives are often structured by an endless list of “shoulds” that serve as rigid rules for how their lives must be led. With such an overemphasis on shoulds, perfectionists rarely take into account their own wants and desires.
  • Believing that others are easily successful. Perfectionists tend to perceive others as achieving success with a minimum of effort, few errors, emotional stress, and maximum self-confidence. At the same time, perfectionists view their own efforts as unending and forever inadequate.

I suppose these factors are already in my head when I invite new friends into my elderly home, strewn with clothing and dusty. Often we supply the remedy for others after we are able to relieve ourselves of fear, shame, and judgment. Judgement is a funny word--often thrown around as liberally as the word "love." It's a fine word, and find to use in the context of the latter. Making a wise choice, a good judgment, an intimate assessment of another person's flaws is perfectly acceptable in the atmosphere of love.

An atmosphere of love that has been perfected (well maybe not perfected...) in oneself first. That's the first lesson, remember? Love thy neighbor as THYSELF.

I've approached my own failures under these conditions. Open the closet, let the stuff tumble out, allow others to see it, criticize it, accept it, or otherwise. That's the first step to cleaning OUT the closet. The next steps are just as complicated and often a journey: we have to find a place for what we want to keep and what we hesitate--sometimes screaming and kicking--to throw out.

But completing the first step insures that there is at least one person to help organize the refuse.

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