The Fashion Magpie Are You a Perfectionist

Are You a Perfectionist?

A friend recently described me as “a perfectionist” (in a loving and flattering way) and I’ve been reflecting on that portrait since. She’s not entirely wrong, but she’s also not entirely right. On the one hand, I do have my ducks in a row. I am hyper-organized, I am an anticipator rather than a procrastinator, and I like my linens ironed. I’ve had readers in the past write: “Life’s too short to worry about ironed sheets!” and I intuitively understand that “ironed sheets” is a metonymy for “over-engineered logistics.” Frankly, I can use the reminder. I want to live my life, not spend it fluffing the pillow cushions. Still. I like things the way I like them, and I come by it earnestly as the daughter to a mother who, when visiting our home, will whisper in my ear with concern: “There is no tissue box in the powder bathroom.” The beds are always made in the morning, my children rarely leave the house in non-coordinated outfits, and the minute both are tucked in at night, I flit around the main level putting everything back in its place and even restoring the coffee table decor that we routinely remove from the premises to make space for duplos and puzzles during the day.

Of course, I am conflating a lot of adjacencies here, because order in the home is not precisely the same thing as perfectionism, but the point stands: I run a tight ship at home.

And yet. I consider myself a true pragmatist. Writing, entrepreneurship, and parenthood have led me to accommodate compromise in countless matters. I publish around 700 posts a year, and the volume necessitates a relinquishment of aims at precision. Things go live and I look back on them and cringe. There are posts I wish I could delete but insist on keeping up, if for nothing else to ground myself and remain true to my conviction that writing is a process, not a product. I doubt very much a bona fide perfectionist would say the same. Entrepreneurship has demanded similar negotiations. I have found that entrepreneurship, almost by nature, is about navigating constraints: you must constantly find scrappy ways to make do with less, which means you are never going to ship a fully-finished, fully-featured widget, or you are never going to be able to recruit or afford the absolute best talent, or you are never going to be able to accommodate the idiosyncratic requests of customers simply because you have limited bandwidth. Entrepreneurship is the most poorly marketed profession I’ve ever encountered in the sense that I’ve rarely seen an accurate portrayal of it. It is the opposite of flashy and slick. It is all about mitigating risk and selecting the least-offensive of a range of unappealing options. In short, it, too, has foiled the perfectionist in me. And parenthood — ah, parenthood! So many of the things I thought I’d never do I have done. As a superficial example, as I make it a point of pride to ensure my children are nicely dressed with hair combed, there have also been many times where my child is the one, to put a narrow point on it, traipsing through Glen Echo Park barefoot and bedraggled. (I wrote about some of the other mental gymnastics parenting has required of me recently here.)

In many ways, I consider myself more of a pragmatist than even Mr. Magpie, who is more on-the-straight-and-narrow than I am. This is a man who does not believe in shortcuts. If he commits to something, it’s 100%, all-in, no fudged edges. I will, on the other hand, sometimes tell him “don’t let perfect be the enemy of good enough.” There are times where I will go in with a plan, realize it’s not going to work, and jump ship. Mr. Magpie will fight it out to the end. “There must be way,” he will insist, and he will engineer a new solution, and I will marvel at his resiliency. This is not to say I don’t have grit and commitment where it matters. But I’m thinking specifically of times I’ve tried to do something DIY/Pinterest-esque and realized halfway through I’m simply not that woman and just think, “Hm, OK. Well, store-bought it is.” Mr. Magpie would be the type to say, “Well, wait a minute. What if we tried…”

In general, though, we are two peas in a pod, right in the center, with him slightly further on the “purist” side of the spectrum and me slightly further on the “pragmatist” side. So maybe it’s that I’m a pragmatist in perfectionist’s clothing? Or vice versa?

What does any of this matter, you may be wondering, as you enter paragraph six? Well, I have found that it is sometimes helpful, in this project of self-knowledge that demands our participation on a daily basis, to hang a few hooks on a wall and see where your coat belongs. As I have thought through this question, I have discovered, for example, that I believe pragmatism to be the opposite of perfectionism. But is that accurate? The spectrum I’ve conjured doesn’t even contemplate “laissez-faire” as a possible tentpole. And that says something, too.

What do you think, friends? Do you consider yourself a perfectionist? A pragmatist? Or something I’ve not even included as an option? Has this changed over time, or because of profession or life stage? Or do you see yourself as a perfectionist in some spheres and something different in others?

Post-Scripts.

+Are you good at negotiating?

+”I can say this, though: the or maybes is the great gift of a degree in English, the vindication I might offer my friend, should we ever revisit the topic: the accommodation of a multitude of narrative possibilities. English trained me to look at a single word and ask: “but why this one?” and to recognize a certain rhyme scheme and ask “what if it were another?” I am forever shaped by the way those questions both exact and forgive….”

+What do you think of the imperative: “If you ever find yourself in the wrong story, leave”? Thoughts here.

+Attention is a form of love.

+Creativity demands “a wild mind and a disciplined eye.

+On pessimism.

Shopping Break.

+This floral puffer has been a best-seller for weeks and is currently on sale.

+This Etsy shop sells the most beautiful personalized bows that will be perfect for the holidays (check out this poinsettia-inspired one!), and the sweet seller is offering my readers 10% off with code magpie10.

+RUN. This adorable tartan shirtdress with ruffled shoulder is only $60 and absolutely perfect for countless holiday festivities.

+OK, I swear I won’t talk your ear off about this but I’m seriously obsessed with this new Marc Jacobs bag my girlfriend gave me (she works there and is, like, kind of a big deal). The colors are so fantastic for my fall wardrobe (though it also comes in fabulous cream or black versions) and it’s the perfect shape and size. It has enough structure to hold a phone, card case, keys, sanitizer, mask, and is therefore ideal when out and about chasing kids and wanting to keep your precious items on you (versus in a tote bag in the stroller). I’m traumatized still by the time I left my bag on my stroller at an NYC playground and saw a man reach into it while pretending to look after a child there. (!!!). I know I don’t live there anymore, and also shame on me for being so naive, but — !! I will never ever leave my valuables/precious items off my body again.

+Juliska Berry-and-Thread vibes on a budget.

+Bergdorf’s is offering 30% off prestige beauty products that rarely go on sale — especially at a discount so steep! Consider Tom Ford’s lipsticks or the GloPro, which I’ve never tried but understand enjoys a cult following.

+Seriously the cutest little sweatshirt for a little one.

+I have to say, this paillette skirt in the ivory color is pretty fantastic. I don’t usually do minis anymore, but this would be so cute with a fitted ivory turtleneck sweater.

+Still a few of these fabulous reversible coats left. Coats are a smart way to invest — you get so much use out of them in a given season (versus, say, a dress you might wear a handful of times).

+My preferred way to drink red wine. A good gift, too!

+This maxi skirt is so well-priced and CHIC for fall.

+Have been really feeling rugby shirts this season. I bought Mr. Magpie this one, micro this one, and am now contemplating this for myself. I have a vision of layering it beneath this puffer vest with these suede flats or statement sneaks for weekend daytime.

+Just bought mini this rugby dress (!) too — currently an extra 50% off, making it $23!

+If the rugby stripe vibe is too sporty, try my favorite polo-inspired sweater for a softer take on the trend.

+And if those Vejas linked above aren’t your speed, some of my longtime favorite Supergas are on serious sale here, for as low as $30/pair!

+Thanks to the reader who recommended this Etsy shop for a beautifully-crafted children’s easel!

+Do ice rollers actually work/do anything? Contemplating testing.

+This longline quilted vest earns you street cred. I feel like these were made to go with Isabel Marant boots.

+These outdoor lights are insanely chic (!!!)

+We spend a lot of time hanging out in our cul de sac with neighbors and their children, and in the evenings, we often enjoy a glass of wine while supervising the children together. I was thinking we might need to buy some of these roadie cups!

+Have you heard about this “space disco” party trend? I don’t fully understand its origins, but if you’re invited to one, you must wear this.

+Frilly Frog is offering 30% off a fantastic collection of classic pieces for children with code FRIENDS. I’m all about corduroy jumpers, classic overalls (<<used the promotion to score this exact pair for micro!), and printed turtlenecks this season, so this sale spoke to me. They also have some adorable current-season knits and collared dresses included!

+Love these corduroy hair clips for mini.

+I ordered myself one of these Hotel Lobby candles over the weekend in the Holiday scent (now sold out), but they still have some other great winter scents and their signature is supposed to be gorgeous, too.

12 Comments

  1. Like Sofia above, I definitely am a perfectionist and it’s definitely not a good thing. My perfectionism asserts itself as a form of hyper-control, and means that when I feel something in my life feels out of my control I become incredibly rigid with the things I can control, even and especially if they don’t really matter (e.g. how clean my house is, or I plan and execute elaborate meals or days out, then fail to enjoy them because I’m too stressed about whether they’re matching my plans/expectations). Therapy helped, and so did the pandemic interestingly! – I think I had to let go of so many plans and just get through that it helped me realise my life doesn’t need to appear perfect to be good, and I also had to get out of my own head a lot to support my daughter and husband when they needed it.

    I’ve also got much better at enjoying process rather than anticipating often-unrealistic outcomes, and letting go of things that don’t truly serve me. I think anyone looking at my life would see fewer, or very different at least, signs of visible success than they did a couple of years ago, but I’m much happier and nicer now than I was then.

    P.S. Your behaviour as described above doesn’t sound like perfectionism to me, and that’s a good thing, I mean it kindly! You’re clearly a high achiever, which I think can be confused with being a perfectionist. And I also fluff the sofa cushions multiple times a day. That *does* matter.

    1. Hi Hayley! Welcome to the comments section and thank you so much for sharing these reflections so vulnerably. The note on growing more comfortable with process (versus product) really resonated with me in particular. In graduate school, I used to teach an intro to writing class and then worked in the Writing Center (where students could drop by for assistance/feedback on papers) and I (coached by the Georgetown faculty proper) routinely insisted that writing was NOT a final product but rather an entire sequence of activities, from pre-writing to revision, some of which does not take place on paper. I remember a lot of students had trouble getting started and helping them get over the hump of thinking that an essay = writing was a big unblocker for many. An essay can begin with a few notes scribbled on a piece of paper, or an idea thrown out in class, etc. It is messy and recursive. I found that something “clicked” for a lot of students once we recognized that reality. It becomes easier to just get started somewhere and not worry about how many paragraphs you have or whether the thesis statement is strong enough.

      All to say…now wondering what other areas of my life I can view as a process rather than a product!

      xx

  2. My friends refer to me as a Type-A Hippie. The meaning behind it is that there are an equal number of things in my life that I care whole-heartedly about than there are that I am laissez-faire about. A very close friend was over for dinner once and said, “I always know I am breaking your house rules when I am here, but I also know you aren’t going to tell me what they are”. Which I think describes it perfectly: there is a time and place for perfectionism.

    1. What a gracious hostess you are for making it so! I like this framework, that there are times and places for perfectionism. It reminds me of my musings a few weeks back on my risk tolerance — I am the world’s most cautious tearaway! I am bold and then calculated/wary in different contexts.
      Thanks for sharing this!

      xx

  3. The older I’ve gotten the more I’ve accepted that I am indeed a perfectionist and that it’s often quite crippling. I’ve noticed interestingly that my tendency towards extreme procrastination (my entire life) is inextricably linked with my perfectionism — I often procrastinate so greatly precisely because I don’t want to start something until I know it can be done perfectly, or I put off making a decision until I feel like I’ve seen and thought about every single possible option. As a result I find myself debilitated by my perfectionism and pursuit of always doing things the right or the best way. Something I am working on because I don’t always feel served by my perfectionism, but old habits die hard!

    1. Hi Sofia! This is so interesting, as I feel I have the opposite problem. I ambitiously throw myself into things and then grow frustrated when expectations don’t meet reality. At least you save yourself some of the exertion, but then again, maybe the emotional labor you’re doing in your position outweighs the freneticism of me hurtling into things. Just to say — I’m working on this, too! Maybe we can work our way towards the middle…

      xx

  4. This might say it all: when I was little and first learned to cross-stitch, I made a sampler that said “A place for everything and everything in its place.” I do love to be organized, and I, too, tidy the living spaces the second the baby’s asleep. That said, I always have some mess behind a closed door! That might be true in a figurative, as well as a literal sense 😉

    1. Haha! I’m the same way on all fronts, including the mess behind closed doors. There are definitely junk drawers/cabinets and, especially with the toys (!!) a lot of bins of miscellany.

      Hello kindred spirit!

      xx

  5. No, I’m not a perfectionist. I call myself a “very goodist” in that I believe that sometimes the extra effort required to bring things to 100 isn’t actually time well spent. Like if I could put in 4 hours studying for a test and get a 95/100 but put in 8 and get a 100/100, those 4 hours would probably be better spent elsewhere. Are there things in life worth pushing to 100? Of course. But choose wisely. Not everything can be a priority.

    1. This is so true, and so wise! It’s also not my area of strength. I find especially in work matters it can be hard for me to disambiguate between “urgent” and “important.” Of course, when something is both, it’s obvious that it needs tending to, but when something is urgent but unimportant I find myself continuously drawn to just knock it off the list and get it it out of my line of sight, even though I know there are meatier matters. Your note is a reminder to continue to work on my prioritization skills.

      xx

  6. You once had a reader posit, “Are you serving it, or is it serving you?” I think this is a very good compass when trying to prioritize.
    I pandemic made me lower my bar in many ways. I still question if the long- term effects are because of fatigue and loss of stamina, or have I reprioritized? I’m not sure. I *think* it’s the latter.

    1. Hi Christina — Yes! You have such a good memory. I’ve thought on those same words many times, too. It’s interesting to think how the pandemic has shaped so much in such a short period. It did this in weird ways for me while living in NYC. For me, the pandemic pushed me further into needing to run a tight ship at home because we were living in such a tight space with limited outdoor outlet and I *needed* that area to be inviting and comfortable and organized. Now I think maybe I’ve loosened the reins a bit. We have an upstairs playroom that I occasionally do not set foot in (intentionally!) for entire days at a time despite the fact that my children routinely wreak havoc up there. I am able to make peace with that mess. Is this the pandemic or just having more space? I don’t know. Anyway, thanks for the food for thought!

      xx

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *