Topic Tuesday: Perfectionism

“On ED and Voltaire” (By: Jessie Capps)

Jessie Capps
“Good is the enemy of great.”

I first saw this Voltaire quotation on a classmate’s MySpace (remember when?) profile. I was in high school, and that maxim instantly made a mark on my psyche. I fully expected myself to be great, and I believed with my whole heart that being greatwould guard me against ever being disappointed.

As a result, I didn’t appreciate the things that I felt only good at.

I was embarrassed that I was only admitted to Vanderbilt, not Duke; only the co-captain of the varsity soccer team; only the VicePresident of the National Honor Society; I was on the homecoming court, but I wasn’t the queen. In my mind, these things were good, but not great – and good simply wasn’t enough.

At the height of my eating disorder, my relentless self-criticism had whittled away my self-confidence. “I just have high standards,” I rationalized. “If I don’t hold myself to these standards, I’ll never accomplish anything.”  Perfectionism robbed me of the joy of my accomplishments, and it prevented me from seeing reality: that I really wasdoing great!

When I got into treatment, I had to reprogram my idea of greatness. I slowly had to learn to appreciate the good wins – like allowing myself to enjoy a dessert or a rich meal.  I also had to learn to accept my “imperfect” idiosyncrasies – like the fact that I’m more of an introvert than I’d like to admit.

In a sense, I had to lower my standards for myself.

Do I still worry that lowering my standards means I’ll never accomplish anything? Quite the opposite! Now that I’m not spending all of my energy on counting the calories in my food and the miles on the treadmill, I have bandwidth to focus on what I actually care about.

Case in point: the year that I got into Recovery, my boss gave me a Christmas card that said, “You are my Night and Day story!” I had gone from coasting at my job (while ED was hogging all of my mental capacity)…to consistently delivering above and beyond expectations. Although my boss didn’t know that I had had a mental overhaul, she could easily see the results: I got two promotions in relatively quick succession.

And if I had read more Voltaire during high school, I would’ve known that he himself quoted an Italian proverb – one that applies much better to my life now:

Le meglio è l’inimico del bene.
PERFECT is the enemy of good.

About the Author
Jessie Capps is a native Nashvillian and Vanderbilt graduate, now working as a technical analyst. Having entered treatment in October 2012, she aims to help reduce the stigma around eating disorders by sharing her story of illness and recovery.