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Perfect Ending: How My Divorce Cured My Perfectionism

Perfect Ending: How My Divorce Cured My Perfectionism

As a child, I was annoyed when other kids colored outside the lines.  I fundamentally did not comprehend how people could not stay in a straight line behind our teacher on the way to the cafeteria. I could spend hours organizing coins, decks of cards, or colors – by strict classifications of size, color, and numerical order. These were early signs of my Type A personality being born.

As I moved into junior high and high school, I over-achieved with a jammed-packed activity schedule while working 2 jobs and maintaining Honor Roll level grades.  A crumpling crying feeling would strike if I did not hit the preferred grade, or I was chastised by a teacher for any small slight. For the most part, if I set my sights on a goal, I stubbornly accomplished it thus growing my perfectionist tendencies with each achievement.

Through college I found great success academically spurred on by competitive guy friends that wanted to prove they were smarter than me. I’ll let you guess how our respective GPAs lined up. By law school, my perfect life path was being mapped out.  As a young lawyer, I prepared, then prepared again. I never wanted to say “I don’t know” to a client, an opposing lawyer, or a judge.

Early in my marriage I wanted to live in Martha Stewart’s Living magazine and aspired to have a perfect home and host perfect parties.  Enter in my 2 beautiful daughters and each outfit was complete with a perfect matching hairbow. I would supermom my way through parenthood and be the mom throwing big birthday bashes, volunteering in the classroom, and coaching sports that I had no business coaching.  

By my 30’s, I had the perfect career, the perfect house, and the perfect children.  My perfectionism had pushed me forward, albeit sometimes roughly, through several decades and by most measures – successfully.  I never had any reason to examine or question how my perfectionism was serving me – I just kept moving to the next perfect iteration of what I wanted my life to look like.

Then my perfect marriage and therefore perfect life – failed.  I found myself barely getting through work some days without crying at my desk, my house was up for sale, and my kids were no longer in my house every day with me. I wasn’t just imperfect – I was a straight up failure.

I started swallowing my pride when my daughters would arrive from their dad’s house in mismatched socks, when my housework was way too much for one person with young children to keep up with, and when I had to host my annual holiday party potluck style. In time, I cared more about getting through the day than in any semblance of perfection.  I saw the world did not come to a halt on its axis because I had to say “no” to a volunteer opportunity.

I saw how my perfectionism was exclusively my need to control everyone and everything within my reach.  I saw how it had underserved me as a businesswoman, mom, lover, and friend.  My need for control stopped me from being true to what my authentic self needed.  It kept me from taking any risks.  It spoilt many a memory when I was too busy setting up the perfect photo to enjoy the actual moment.  

When my life literally collapsed under the failure of divorce, I was reluctantly forced to reset everything.  I looked at my life’s intentions anew.  What really mattered?  What did I most want?  Did I care if it was perfect?  I stared the truth square in the eye – it no longer mattered if I wanted life to be perfect – I knew now I didn’t have the energy, finances, or ambition to do it all myself.  I threw up the white flag and gave in to my perfectly imperfect life.  Now “good enough” is my favorite standard and I see my biggest failure as my perfect cure.

Angela Dunne