Yesterday I took my two boys to see a theatre performance of Mary Poppins. I love the theatre, but hardly ever find the time to go. Actually, my husband and I met in the theatre; we were actors long before I was a psychologist. So it brightens my day to share film, book, and theatre loves with my kids. Mary Poppins is a particular favourite.

What is it about Mary Poppins that we love so much? Mary is magical. And she is perfect. “Practically perfect in every way”, in fact. She always looks impeccable, even after seeing the insides of a chimney! She knows exactly how to recruit kids to the task at hand, how to be firm but fair, and how to nourish them emotionally. When I was a kid, I dreamed of having a babysitter who was secretly Mary Poppins. As a mum I sometimes think I’d like to be her. But I’m not. I’m not perfect. Practically or otherwise. And sometimes it’s tempting to beat myself up about that.

I’m Certainly Not Perfect

My house is a mess, my kids eat too much sugar and not enough vegetables, and my cat has learned the subtle art of peeing everywhere EXCEPT in the kitty tray. In fact, I’m so NOT perfect that I waited until the very last minute (yesterday morning) to book tickets for the matinee on the very last day of the show’s run (also yesterday). The only available seats were in the nosebleeds. And it was 32 degrees Celsius outside. It was HOT in the theatre. No air conditioning. Bugger. But soldier on we did, letting the magic of live theatre transport us away from our discomfort – helped along with a little “spoon full of sugar” from the candy counter. #MotherOfTheYear

Comparisons & Perfectionism

Do you sometimes feel the pressure to be perfect? Sometimes it’s just a desire to do better than we can currently muster. Sometimes it’s a desire to keep up with others around us.

Social media is a trickster. We see our friends in perfect holiday snaps. We see their kids perfectly decked out for the first day of school (whoops, must post those photos). We see Insta-shots of their perfect meals whipped up in their oh-so-gorgeously-tidy kitchens. It is a torrent of eye candy teasing us in daily doses, poking us in the ribs as if to say “you could be practically perfect too, but you’re not”.

Remember my post from last week about the duck on the millpond? Are you over-estimating the “perfect” that you see in others?

Perfectionism At Its Worst

Perfectionism can be utterly debilitating. The anxiety caused by the desire to be perfect can prevent us from achieving our goals. We freeze in our tracks, worried that if we can’t be perfectly prepared, we can’t start at all. Or we finesse and finesse and finesse, never actually finishing a project because it’s JUST. NOT. PERFECT. Students hand in their work late, or not at all. New parents don’t leave the house worried that their home, child, attire isn’t perfect enough. Perfectionistic personality traits run counter to the lack of control we actually have over many outcomes in life. The constant bashing of our heads against that brick wall can lead to a sense of hopelessness and despair.

What You Can Do

If this is sounding familiar, there are a couple of things you can do to reduce the impact of perfectionism on your quality of life.

  • Set realistic goals. Decide what’s more important; getting the job finished or being perfect? Does it matter if there’s a typo left in that urgent final report? I’ve seen legal documents with typos in them. As far as I know, the sky’s still standing.
  • Learn to ride the wave. When you feel the urge to finesse, ride it out. Distract yourself with music, a walk, a chat with a friend. You’ll feel that perfection urge fade into the distance.
  • Learn to chill. Using mindfulness skills can cool you down enough to enable you to let it go and walk away. Does it matter if the floor is only half vacuumed? Really? What’s more important, a perfectly clean floor or catching up with a dear friend?
  • Read something helpful. Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection is a great place to start, encouraging you to accept yourself as you are instead of beating yourself up for not being who you’ve assumed you SHOULD be (often an unattainable ideal).
  • Seek help. If you feel you just can’t put your perfectionism in your back pocket talk to a psychologist or other mental health professional. [Pro tip: Lots of high achievers are perfectionists, there’s no shame in it, we get it.]

In the meantime, take some time out to enjoy a rerun of Disney’s Mary Poppins, or read the PL Travers original to your kids, or go for a walk with an umbrella humming the fabulous show tunes to yourself.

We might not be “practically perfect in every way”, but we are good enough, and that in itself is perfect enough for me.