“I don’t want to be perfect, I just want to be really good at something”.
D.T., 13 year old teenage male
We are conditioned to lean toward perfection. There’s the old adage “if you are going to do it, then do it right”. It’s not that big a leap to go from “do it right” to do it perfectly. We are expected to achieve and improve. We are told to get better grades all through school, by our teachers and our parents. We are compared either favourably or unfavourably to those around us and determinations are made as to our success or failure. This improvement must be brought about even if the so stated improvement has no personal meaning or payback for us.
Many of us are encumbered by the ideology of perfection. If you have experience with the pursuit of perfection, you may already know that striving for perfection may result in unhappiness, confusion, burnout and possibly a diminished sense of self-esteem. For those of us that routinely chase perfection, it is almost always a disappointing goal. What is perfection, anyway?
According to Dictionary.com, the definition of perfection is: “conforming absolutely to the description or definition of an ideal type”, and “excellent or complete beyond practical or theoretical improvement”. Broadly speaking, perfection is defined as a state of completeness and flawlessness.
Checking in with some folks, here is what I heard:
“Perfection is something that is unable to be improved upon”.
“Someone who never fails, does everything easily and perfectly, the first time”.
“I know I struggle with perfectionism…”
“I also realize the human race is quite un-perfect.”
“It physically makes me very unsettled, being a perfectionist… “
Four out of five of the comments mentioned above came from people who have ADHD, which I understand. We try harder.
Perfection is definitely getting in the way of reaching my goals. As a person with ADHD, there have been many who are critical of my ways of doing things. All manner of things. The desire to be perfect often results in my doing nothing. Even when I want more than anything to do something.
For example, I really wanted to write this article about perfection. I mean genuinely wanted to express my thoughts on the issue. The internal conversation that has gone on while writing it is oppressive and exhausting. As every word hits the page, it is scrutinized to be sure it’s the “perfect” word for the statement.
I am literally forcing myself to write this and not be concerned with what I think of what I write. Forcing myself to focus on what perfection has meant to me. In the name of the pursuit of perfection, I have done a great deal of procrastinating. Worrying over whether anything I do is good enough and then spending hours massaging the damn thing, editing it, and so it goes, just to be “the best it can be”, I hope. Moreover, there is a constant internal dialogue of “who cares anyhow?” Repeat that about four thousand times. That is my conversation internally as I write. Crazy town, right? How exactly, did I get here?
More importantly, how can I lose the need to be perfect and get on with living a life worth living? Sure, intellectually one can say, “Be yourself”, “Who cares what others think” and all that “rah rah” good stuff! Yeah right!
Well I lucked into something that has provided a springboard for me to revise everything I ever thought about having to have “A”s in every subject. If you haven’t had the opportunity to see Carol Dweck’s; “The Power of Believing that You Can Improve”, you are missing a great presentation on the Power of Yet. Putting our intelligence up for judgement sparks all kinds of peril. Whereas if we think in terms of not failure, but put learning on a path of growth mindset, it changes and illuminates the idea of perfection. Carol Dweck asks important questions about how we are raising our children. “Are we raising kids who are obsessed with getting A’s? Are we raising kids who don’t know how to dream big dreams? Their biggest goal is getting the next A or the next test score? And are they carrying this need for constant validation with them into their future lives?” Dweck goes on to say that one thing we can do is praise our children wisely, not praise intelligence or talent. She says praising intelligence and talent has failed and we ought not to do that anymore. However, praising the process that kids engage in: their effort, their strategies, their focus, their perseverance and their improvement creates kids who are hardy and resilient, and they have a growth mindset, knowing that they are not there “yet” and they can improve.
Professor Dweck’s TED Talks presentation resonated with me, allowing me to reconsider the whole concept of perfection and A’s. The concept of “Yet” was enough that I could exchange my long held beliefs about being perfect to a belief that improvement in areas that are important to me is all I need concern myself with. And bonus: how I measure that improvement is up to me.
I invite you to view Professor Dweck’s enlightening 10 minute talk by clicking here:
Carol Dweck researches “growth mindset” — the idea that we can grow our brain’s capacity to learn and to solve problems. In this talk, she describes two ways to think about a problem that’s slightly too hard for you to solve. Are you not smart enough to solve it … or have you just not solved it yet? A great introduction to this influential field.
Rachel Dale Howard wrestles with ADHD every day. It’s Rachel’s personal mission to eradicate perfectionism one person at a time, while assisting others to be their best self. You can learn more about Rachel and the services she offers by visiting http://www.rachel-howard.com.
Did you know that taking a full break from academics in the summer can result in two to three months of learning loss? This is especially true for students with learning disabilities and ADHD. Therefore, while students certainly need and deserve a break from school in the summer, they must also try to keep up their skills so as not to fall too far behind. Here are a few suggestions on how to keep your child learning during the break.
Provide Structure: Students are used to the structure of school, which stimulates learning with minimal distractions. Unstructured time at home is not as conducive to learning. It is difficult for many families to fit academics into their carefree summer days. Even children who attend day camp generally return home to many hours of free time afterwards. Sleep-away camps usually provide a round-the-clock schedule, but these rarely take up the whole summer. The best way to provide structure during idle hours is with a schedule. I recommend scheduling time for pool and play, reading for pleasure, hands-on educational activities, and even academics with a tutor.
Reading for Pleasure: This is the best way for students to keep up their reading, writing, grammar, vocabulary, and spelling skills. Nonfiction will teach them about a topic of interest, historical fiction will teach them about a period of time, and fiction will open their eyes to other types of lifestyles and introduce them to characters that they can relate to. I emphasize that pleasure reading has to be enjoyable and therefore must be picked out by the student. It can be books, magazines, newspapers, graphic novels, etc. E-readers are great because they enable readers to quickly look up vocabulary words while reading. For children who do not read on their own, you can encourage them by taking them to the library and bookstore, and having a daily reading hour at home for all family members. You can also read the same book as your child and discuss it together in a mini book group.
Neighborhood Book Group: When my child was in fourth grade, we started a neighborhood book group for fourth grade girls, led by a creative teacher, in an effort to keep our kids reading. They had so much fun and eagerly continued the book club weekly or biweekly for four years.
Hands-on Educational Activities: These can range from gardening and cooking, to traveling to museums and historic sites. Many of us wish school could be more hands-on, so let’s make up for this deficit in the summer. This is also a great way to bond with your children.
Academics with a Tutor: I know from experience that it is very difficult for parents to get their kids to do math and grammar worksheets in the summer. It is even more difficult to get them to write. This is why a third party, a professional tutor, can come to your house a couple of times a week to work on math, reading, and writing. These are truly “use it or lose it” skills, so your money will be well invested. A tutor can steer students towards topics that pique their interest for reading and writing, and help them find interesting ways to apply math concepts. Ideally, these tutoring sessions should be engaging, stimulating, and fun.
Hopefully, you and your children are enjoying your summer and looking forward to vacations, the beach, and carefree summer days. Learning can be fun, too, so be sure to incorporate it into your summer schedule.
Cheryl Gedzelman is President of Tutoring For Success, which offers home based tutoring, test prep, and academic coaching in the Washington, DC area, www.TutoringForSuccess.com; (703)390-9220
You Are Not the Boss of Me … or Are You? How to Shift the “Attitude” and Have More Fun In Your Job ~ Guest Blogger Shell Mendelson
In my twenties I worked for a big corporation as a legal secretary. Now imagine an off-the-chart ADDer doing this job in the first place.
After being shuffled around the legal department to various attorneys who the company thought I could work with, I ended up with a woman attorney who was three years my senior.
In the morning she gave me personal tasks like writing her friends’ letters, paying her bills and basically anything but the work I was hired to do. Rather than just roll with it, I adopted an adversarial attitude and refused to be her personal assistant.
Instead, I was indignant, arrogant, felt put upon, taken advantage of, bored and angry. Who did she think she was anyway? I was not a team player. I simply refused to acknowledge that I was given a job to do and was expected to complete the tasks put before me.
Looking back, what mattered was that I had a job in a nice company that paid well. In fact, I could actually avoid doing the legal secretarial work I abhorred in the first place for a little while.
Of course, I WAS in the wrong job. With my BA and Teacher’s Certification, I was supposed to be a high school teacher. I thought I was too good for this stuff.
I was fired…again.
I had friends who worked there. The company was generous in a way that is rare today. It was a comfortable place to be on the way to figuring out what kind of professional I was going to be. There were very few jobs for teachers in California.
So, I started the ADHD isolation process early in my career.
Had I displayed one ounce of maturity and shifted my attitude toward doing my best, there is no doubt my generosity of spirit would have been rewarded.
With ADHD, we often cut off our noses to spite our face, resulting in diminished self confidence and anger.
I repeated this scenario until age 29 when I entered a Master’s program and started heading down the path of career fulfillment with a clear direction. I was lucky. But it was a LONG road.
If you are in a job that doesn’t measure up to your expectations, but is a means to an end, consider the rewards of making the most of it.
Here are a few tips to feel fulfilled enough for now!
- Adopt an attitude of gratitude
- Be determined to do the very best work you can do, no matter how much you are not loving it
- If time permits, ask coworkers if you can help them.
- Smile and encourage your coworkers
- Act as if you love it for a day and see what happens
- Get coached to change career directions
- Think of your “job” as a living in the present meditation.
- Try to do more of the tasks you enjoy
- Reward yourself for a job well done
- Remember you do have choices.
The road to career happiness often hurls us in a number of directions before we eventually recognize the path we are meant to take. Recognizing that path makes the “means to an end” job so much more palatable.
Shell Mendelson, MS, Career Coach for Adults with ADHD helps clients go from chaos to focused career choice with unparallelled planning and support, www.shellmendelson.com, .