At a writer’s conference in 1998, I found myself with a free afternoon and, looking over the schedule, decided to sit in on a workshop entitled “Organizing to Write.” (This would be yet another in a long list of things I’ve gone into thinking I don’t need it and discovering I’m wrong.)
People in that workshop had all sorts of messes they hoped to clean up.
There was the person who didn’t know what to do with all the books she had. Even after getting rid of the ones she didn’t need to keep, she was still buried in books. They were piled here, there and everywhere, so that when she needed one, she’d expend all sorts of time trying to locate it. Her desk and floor space were gradually disappearing. SHE had a problem.
“Get a bookcase,” the instructor said.
It turned out she’d shopped all over for a bookcase, but couldn’t find one that was just the right size, color, price, etc., so she was still shopping.
“How long have you been looking?”
“Oh, at least 6 or 7 years.”
“MY problem isn’t books,” a man piped up. “It’s FILES! I have a lot of different things going on and am really good about keeping things in separate files so they don’t get mixed up, but they are just everywhere.”
“You need a file cabinet,” the instructor said.
The man had looked and looked, but was unsure whether a lateral or upright would be best and whether to get something that would fit his needs now or spend a bit more money for a bigger cabinet, one that would meet future needs.
The teacher didn’t miss a beat.
“That’s PURE PERFECTIONISM…in both those situations! You’re waiting for everything to line up perfectly before you can move forward. GET a file cabinet! GET a bookcase! GET those things off your desk and off your floor and start living again.”
I laughed, so hard my friend elbowed me, but…thinking of how long I’d been shopping for various items that would make a huge difference in my daily life and how many times I’d been on the verge of an acquisition and then said, “No, no. It’s just an inch too long” or “an inch too short” or “not the right color” and blah, blah, blah……I saw myself!
But here’s the interesting thing about all of this (in case, even uninterested, you’ve read this far): I doubt even one person came into that workshop that day thinking of himself/herself as a perfectionist. Of course not. They came thinking of themselves as messes, and we tend not to connect perfectionism with mess. But a lot of messes have perfectionism at the foundation. It’s a powerful yet unseen supporting structure.