Diary of a busy practitioner, juggling work and family somewhere in England. This week: perfectionism

This year I have had some hypnotherapy. I am more surprised than anyone about this. My usual view on health is to take the drugs, only have procedures that are available on the NHS, and generally not to indulge in any witchdoctory. My first brush with alternative therapy was on a day trip to Bluewater shopping centre, when my mum dragged me into a Chinese medicine shop, because there was a sign saying they could help with exam stress. I was taken through to a back room, an old lady said something to me I couldn’t understand and when my mum walked through with all her shopping bags two minutes later I was lying on the bed in my underwear with a hundred needles stuck into my body. Another brush came later when my osteopath sister-in-law promised my baby would 'fly out', if she gave me regular treatment during my pregnancy. MY BABY DID NOT FLY OUT. Epidural worked a treat though. 


My hypnotherapy started with an in-depth chat about myself. After a few minutes the hypnotherapist branded me a perfectionist. I laughed. 'I’m really not' I said, 'you should see the state of my house'. And in that sentence the word 'house' could have easily been replaced with desk, files, garden, oven, spare room, fridge, children or brain. But she educated me. A perfectionist is not someone who does everything perfectly, a perfectionist is someone who never feels like they have done anything perfectly. They don’t feel like they have done enough, they don’t enjoy having done a job well, they are indecisive and procrastinate. They expect higher standards of themselves than they expect of their peers. However, they may expect high standards from those close to them. You know, like maybe if you had a long-suffering husband who you tried to improve constantly. That bit obviously doesn’t apply to me.

Since she told me I was a perfectionist, someone else has too, and I don’t think it is surprising. My parents and my husband are the same, as is DALC1. (DALC2 isn’t, she is feral.) My mum, for example, uses the word 'mauve' more than anyone I have ever met, so if I was to say 'I like that light purple dress over there' she would say 'I can’t see a purple dress, do you mean the mauve one?' Sorry Mum. Note To Self - must continue to try harder to correctly name shades of purple, as well as the other gazillion things I am continuously trying harder at.

The hypnotherapist told me I could train myself out of perfectionism. My first lesson was to accept compliments without making a comment back to lessen the impact of the compliment. Don’t say 'this old thing?' Just say 'thank you' instead. Try it, it is really hard.

I also noticed my little problem recently when DALC1 asked everyone at the dinner table what their favourite films were. My husband chose Empire Strikes Back, my mother-in-law chose The Railway Children, DALC1 chose Matilda, DALC2 chose the new Paw Patrol film and my father-in-law chose Zulu. I literally couldn’t choose a film. Should I have chosen Les Miserables, or To Kill a Mockingbird, or Stand By Me, or A Star is Born, or Forrest Gump, or Gone With the Wind, or Ghost, or Love Actually? Why couldn’t I just gleefully shout 'SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE!' and move on with the conversation? So my second lesson is going to be to make decisions without deliberating forever on non-existent consequences.

The difficulty is we work in a profession that seems to demand perfectionism. Clients don’t expect mistakes. Secretaries and fee earners alike make mistakes but it is part of the fee earner’s job to take the flack for all of them. We are expected to account for every six minutes of the day. We are set targets that are sometimes unrealistic. We give out feedback questionnaires so that we can self-flagellate or, even worse, hone our skills and service further to get better comments next time. We have to wait until some future point - in my case I have to wait until my clients actually die- to discover whether our advice and drafting was good enough or whether we are going to be found to be negligent. We are strictly regulated and the penalties for not complying with regulations include humiliation in this very publication, losing our job, losing other people their jobs and even going to prison. You don’t get that from a career in hat making or cake baking.

Being a parent these days is even harder, and what greater goal than not screwing up your very own humans?

To do both jobs at the same time with the mindset of a perfectionist is enough to make you tear your greying hair out. I follow someone on Twitter who, on the face of it, seems to advocate for positive parenting, but it would appear she believes positive parents need to be told to 'plant a spring bulb with your child' at 9.30am on a Tuesday and 'get a little bit dressed up' on days at home to 'improve the mood of everyone in the household'. All of us, but especially those of us lucky enough to have a flexible working arrangement, are at risk of thinking we need to do all this stuff, on top of all the other stuff, to achieve that most important of goals - making our family happy. When did this become the responsibility of one person? And what if we are all much happier sitting in our pyjamas watching Apple Tree House?

I hate those inspirational posters/mugs/keyrings that say 'You Are Enough'. When I see them I hear 'You Are Quite Disappointing But You’ll Do'.

Instead, let’s all get keyrings that say 'You Are Awesome For Having A Go'.