How I learned not to be a perfectionist

I learned when I was a teenager not to be a perfectionist. Or, more accurately, I learned that perfection won’t necessarily save you from anything.

My family went away Friday nights to spend the weekends at the beach house. I was left alone at home.

Some weekends I would throw a party, sometimes big, sometimes small. Then on Sunday I’d clean the house to make sure there were no signs of the party.

I liked to clean anyway. My family was a very messy bunch, and I liked things put away. I liked to have the floors vacuumed and the dishes cleaned.

So I made sure to clean every Sunday whether or not I had thrown a party. This way no one could tell by the state of the house whether or not I had thrown a party.

Still I got into trouble from time to time for throwing a party. It’s hard to remove all traces of a party.

So one weekend I decided to clean the house perfectly. No party. I started cleaning Friday night after my family left. I cleaned all Saturday and all Sunday until they returned.

I even cleaned the bathrooms and mowed the lawn. I cleaned everything. Perfection achieved.

You know what happened, of course. I got in trouble for throwing a party, even though I had spent the entire weekend cleaning.

My parents said the house was so perfectly clean I must have thrown a party. I asked them to show me some evidence. They said there’s no other explanation for such a perfectly clean house. So I was in trouble.

Lesson learned: perfection is as likely to get you into trouble as it is to save you.

07 Jun 2002

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