Perfection and Perfectionistas!!

Yes. And you know if you are one. You are probably a woman. You are probably exhausted with a To-Do list of To-Do lists. You are probably rushed off your feet and never very relaxed. The question is: how on earth did we get this way?

A few thoughts on the legacy left by our role models

Once upon a time, until the mid-1920s, households with almost any income had servants. Those servants cooked, waited at the table, cleaned, washed and ironed and there might have been a gardener too. That left the lady of the house with plenty of time to get dressed, do her hair and go about her daily tasks of managing a social diary and the household. Thankfully, the First World War (and suffragette movement) changed this life of service, and the role of women, forever.

The Second World War brought about more change. By then some women, my grandmother included, worked in offices or shops, farms, factories, or hospitals. But for others, their work was still in the home; to cook, clean, launder and be there for the children when they got back from school and the husband when he returned from work.

American women during the second world war

Further into the twentieth century, when our mothers got married and had children, they gave up their careers (or worked part-time) to look after us, our fathers, and the home. Upon reflection, this sacrifice showed a great commitment to their families but also was a measure of how society saw women. Some women ran businesses or had professional careers – but it wasn’t mainstream.

Then we came of age and took up the baton. And we were the first generation of women who worked full time, our whole lives, lived complex lives outside of work and had children too. This was a big generational change.

Some questions

Does a lifetime contain enough bandwidth for a decent career? Yes. Does a lifetime contain enough bandwidth to be a homemaker and a mother of children? Yes. Does a lifetime contain enough bandwidth to do both at the same time? Not easily. Everything, is, more or less, crammed in. It is one big plate-spinning, multitasking package that we have created for ourselves. And, on top of everything else, if there is a hint of any downtime or spare time, there is exercise, hobbies, or volunteering to take up the slack.

The whispered high standards

And let’s be clear about one critical thing; low standards are not really acceptable to us, although some shortcuts might be. Waynetta Slob is our nemesis. For us, there is an invisible measuring and comparing campaign going on. Some unspoken, whispered laws, very hard to define or explain, that dictate “how it must be” and which we ignore at our peril. This is why and when Perfectionistas are born.

Question: if we lived on a desert island on our own – would we still want perfection? The brutal answer is: probably, yes. A neat cave, floor swept, a pile of firewood, some nuts or fruit collected, clothes in a neat pile, charcoal stick adapted for eyeliner, you get the drift.

You excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness.

2 Corinthians 8: 7

What do we want?

A meaningful career and half-decent money; delicious food and drink; clean clothes, houses and beds. Bank accounts in the black, personal admin done. Garden in good order. Great holidays, parties and presents for others. Some personal care, health and fitness. Perhaps some hobbies if there is time. Quality relationships with friends, family, neighbours, and colleagues. Some sleep. Nothing much then.

So just to spell it out, our ambition of having it all, means doing it all. That means all the home stuff, friends and family relationships as well as a full time job, at the same standards as our mothers and the previous generations set.

In modern times, unless you are the royals or Nicola Horlick, this double-act (triple/quadruple/quintuple etc act) is performed with minimal support. It’s true that washing machines and dishwashers help. And cleaners, helpful spouses and grandparents are fabulous but they are not our servants and any help that they provide is on their terms. So to achieve that perfection, we must strive on.

Let’s face it, nobody actually minds the results of the perfection, or being its fortunate beneficiary. The images that we see all around us – all those beautiful houses, kitchens, gardens, cooking and clothes drive us on. Remember, we don’t see those images in the abstract. We see them as part of a lifestyle that we wish to achieve. Possibly building on dreams from the earliest of our childhood times.

WIPES have saved our lives

Hallmarks of perfection

Everywhere you go in a Perfectionista’s world you will see small points of perfection, accomplishment and high achievement. Look out for the DIY, interior design, garden produce, craft, cooking, the successful career or business that’s not mentioned much, gifts, clothes, sporting accomplishments and the wonderful “good order.” It’s perfect.

Perversely, the highest price of perfection is the Perfectionista herself. The toll of high achievement can be costly. The exhaustion and poor mental state; too much alcohol and junk food; the terrible state of skin, hair and personal care; and bad health, migraines and other chronic illnesses. These are all hallmarks or giveaway signs of burnout. Sad to say, some relationships suffer too.

The sub-category and the dark side – the Virago

The Virago is controlling. She sacrifices anything and everyone for her high standards and achievements including other Perfectionistas. Beware and stay clear if you can. They are frightening. You have been warned.

What do we need? What would help?

These are not difficult questions to answer and strangely, we do like to get off our treadmills and party. How do we like to relax us? How can we find ourselves again?

  • First item on the list is wine – a mixed blessing these days, given its toxicity.
  • However, champagne/prosecco – strangely, a different category and always, welcome, yes.
  • Healthy food – so we can enjoy eating.
  • Junk food – in small amounts only please – as it’s addictive, but we can be led astray.
  • Chocolate – ditto.
  • Cake – ditto.
  • Coffee and tea, (gin and coke etc) – oh yes, can’t survive with them.
  • Sunshine – only God can provide this one on a timely basis – but it’s a mood elevator for sure.
  • Holidays – yes, when it’s possible to cram one in and to stop the plates spinning, safely.
  • Beaches, mountains, anything in Italy – yes as above.
  • Hotels – definitely.
  • Lie-in – for sure. Bed is the best place in the world.
  • Beauty treatments and spas – love em. Whenever it was that we last went to one.
  • Lovely things – Waitrose food, candles, soap, scent, flowers, diamonds – all make the world go around.

Things that help (notes to spouses)

  • Washing-up-as-you-go-along – so we don’t have to do it later.
  • Loading the dishwasher – like we do it, or better.
  • Laundry – ditto.
  • Putting-out-the-bins-without-being-asked. This will earn you a lifetime of bonus points.
  • Offers of helpalways welcome but it’s got to be timely, (for the sake of clarity – that means NOW) because we can’t wait.
  • Cancellations/postponements/delays – a strange one this, but yes, the extra time is always welcome.

Things that drive us nuts (notes to the world)

  • Waiting in queues– for example at the Post Office or airline check-in desks (don’t say easyJet and don’t even whisper RyanAir).
  • Having a nice chat – the customer-friendly check-out or check-in desk, with the people in the queue in front of you.
  • Having a nice chat 2 – with you when you have just taken your seat and closed your eyes.
  • Splaining – someone explaining something slowly to you that you knew three years ago.
  • Splaining 2: someone explaining something slowly to you that you told them three years ago.
  • Splaining 3: someone explaining something slowly to you – ALL THOSE THINGS YOU HAVE TRIED ALREADY
  • Trains, buses, planes etc arriving late, so you miss your appointment, or connection and waste our #1 commodity – time. Needs no further explanation.
  • Anything designed by and for big strong tall people.
  • Anything designed by people that don’t clean or mend things.
  • Anything for which One Size Fits all is considered an acceptable metric.
  • Anywhere with [unexpected] early closing.
  • Anyone arriving early . On time is fine by us.
  • “20 people waiting for the one 08.00 medical appointment” We need a term for this situation which combines gob-smacking incredulity, unfairness and rage.
  • Christmas starting in August – (Thank you, Co-op, for that tin of festive biscuits).
  • No toilet paper – usually the one time in our entire life that we haven’t got a Kleenex with us.

And the NEVERS

  • NEVER bring something forward – we are always running behind and have always over-committed our time. Please remember our spinning plates and multitasking. This is a car crash for us.
  • NEVER LEAVE IT FOR US TO DO UNLESS IT IS OUR ACTUAL JOB – there are no servants around here.
  • NEVER GIVE OUR TIME AWAY WITHOUT ASKING FIRST OR OFFERING US A DEAL – time is our currency, as is money, actually. *
  • SAY YOU WILL DO IT AND THEN DON’T – WTF are we supposed to do about this?
  • MISS OR FORGET OUR DEADLINES – this can break our world.
  • TELL US THAT WE TAKE ON TOO MUCH/CAN’T SAY NO. We know that already, we don’t know how to stop and, we may not want to change.

And the ALWAYS


*strange but true. Yes, we like to be paid for what we do. If you monetized our perfection we would all be millionaires.

Published by katharine@kvhcom is all about creative communications. A creative approach means not just an attractive visual appearance, but engaging text and an innovative approach to any project.

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