When is Good Enough Good Enough for a Perfectionist?

November 27, 2007
Learn how to tell the difference between the thoughts of a perfectionist and the thoughts of a recovering perfectionist.

When I went to bed last night, I had already written the following three paragraphs:

The bed in the guest room is piled with clothes, camera, and miscellaneous things I intend to pack today.  Although we don’t leave until Saturday, packing light is not my strength and it’s been a challenge to decide what to bring for a month-long trip requiring clothes for cold Washington, DC, moderate-weather Egypt, and Equatorial Kenya. It’s also a challenge to get packing done before the last minute.

Every vacation I swear I will be ready earlier and each time I stay up too late the night before an early-morning flight with things I should have done earlier. This time I’m doing much better. When I finish tonight, I’ll have been completely packed three days before we leave!

Then in the next three days I plan to create a series of blog entries that my part-time assistant can upload while I’m gone, giving you something new to read every few days. For each entry I’ll (1) tell you where we are supposed to be that day, (2) give you a link to an article that fits the atmosphere of the holidays, and (3) recommend a book I have enjoyed.

With those ideas in my head, I fell into bed. Then sometime during the night I had a conversation with myself and concluded that perfectionists and recovering perfectionists have very different thought patterns:

This is how my perfectionist thinks

I have to create a series of blog entries so that anyone who comes to the blog while I’m on vacation will have something new to read, which is what I did last year when we went to Australia and New Zealand. This way, if first-time visitors find an entry they enjoy, they will want to come back. But if they return and find the old blog entry still there, they’ll stop coming. Soon I’ll lose all my readers and it will take months to entice them to return. And I need readers if I’m going to sell my products beginning January 15th.

This is how I think when my recovering perfectionist is in charge

If my goal is to leave for vacation without being exhausted, I have to decide what can be removed from the “to-do” list. When I look at all the things that must be done, I am left with a few that come under the heading of “desirable but not essential.” The latter should not be started until everything else is finished. And the reality is that there isn’t enough time to do the blog if the other things are to get finished on time.

Besides, when I look at how often I write in the blog when I’m not on vacation, it’s a great deal less often than I was planning to have available for when I was away. So I will make one entry today and let that be sufficient for the month. When I come back on Jan. 2, I can return to the blog with new ideas.

Telling my perfectionist to take a hike, I have made a decision that reduces much of the stress I was feeling in these last days before the vacation. If I can’t finish this by the end of the day, which includes a shopping trip to stores where you need two things here, two things there, and only one thing somewhere else, I will send it “as-is,” which perfectionists find extremely difficult to accept. But we “recovering perfectionists” are learning that good enough is good enough and usually all that is really required.