Thursday, 10 May 2018

How Perfectionism Is Making You Lazy

I have more ideas than I can work on, or even write down. It has always been that way. My mind is like a popcorn machine of ideas. Things to do. Events to plan. Ways to decorate the house. Things to cook. Outfits to wear. Conversations to start. Books to read. Stuff to write. I don’t have ‘a notebook’, I have several, all for different projects, and they’re all intended to be beautifully organised and presented when I buy them, but they all lie about in different areas of the house, and I end up writing about a thing that belongs in a different one in whichever one is visible at the time the idea comes to mind. And mostly I don’t write anything down. Mostly I don’t make a start on the things that do make it out of my mind, through the pen onto the paper. And mostly I don’t follow through on the stuff I do begin to act on.

I have never thought of myself as a perfectionist, but I am very ambitious – and having high ambitions for each thing you do can be a kind of perfectionism. So while I don’t need everything I do to be perfect – I brush my teeth for ninety seconds fewer than the recommended two minutes – I do want certain things to be more than good, to be truly great.

Padre Maurizio Botta says perfectionism is the path to laziness. It might sound unlikely, but it immediately made perfect sense to me because it resonates so much with my own experience.

I am extremely lazy. I don’t say that in an attempt at self-deprecation, I don’t think it’s that rare to be extremely lazy. I think it’s probably actually the norm, and I didn’t really think of myself as lazy until I met a handful of people who aren’t. I’m not like those people. I’m not someone who works hard at stuff because I know the value of hard work. I have to really force myselfthrough the work, whilst every bone in my body is screaming ‘no’, begging me to abandon, because it really needs a rest from the last thirty-five seconds of yet another tedious, thankless chore.

Only after Padre Botta’s words did I realise these two tendencies in me – perfectionism and laziness – go hand in hand, and the root anchoring both of them is pride.

Perfectionism says to you: ‘what you’re doing isn’t good enough. Abandon this endeavour. It will never meet your standards. It will be sub-par. If you can’t give it your full attention and truly try your hardest you should stop wasting time on something that will end up disappointing you anyway.’

Laziness says to you: ‘what you have to do is worse than doing nothing. It’s going to cause you discomfort, maybe even pain. Don’t do it. Stay here and stay comfortable.’

They feed each other: laziness says don’t bother doing thisand the righteous ‘but it’s something I have to do’ voice is soon silenced by perfectionism which says it will probably end up a piece of crap anywayit’ll be worse than if you hadn’t done it at all: you won’t have done a good job, and, what’s worse, you’ll have given up your time and your comfort. 

This is the voice of pride. You are better than this, it says. You should only do what you can do well, and it makes so much sense to our proud heart – if I’m going to sacrifice time and comfort, it better be for something that I can take pride in – something that reflects my ambitions and my best abilities. 

The most wonderful thing about children is that children, especially in the beginning, don’t wait. They don’t wait for you to have time to do a job you can be proud of. They don’t wait for you to be rested. They don’t wait for you to be ready. They’re here, and they need to be served, and they force humility on you as you realise that not only are you imperfect, you’re also plain old lazy. You won’t always do a great job. You won’t always do a good job. Sometimes the job won’t get done. But sometimes you will just about get it done, and that’s preferable, even if it’s nothing to be proud about – only something to be thankful for. So only by the grace of God will your children thrive and grow up and be strong. Discovering that has been – and continues to be – painful, and yet also the biggest, greatest blessing.

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