I am a perfectionist. I like things done a specific way and am not too enamoured if it is left half undone. It bothers me – I mean – it really bothers me when I see slipshod work or total disregard for one’s work. It is a physical phenomenon – my heart beat raises, my eyes dilate, my muscles tighten and my voice goes up by a few decibels. People label that as anger. They ask me ‘why are you angry?’. That used to make all my symptoms even more pronounced. But I don’t call it anger. I call it respect for the work I do. I call it passion to give my best. I call it intensity to stay focussed. I call it a need for perfection.
So what really is perfection?
It takes the Earth approximately 365.242199 days – or 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 46 seconds (a tropical year) – to circle once around the Sun. This orbit of the earth is not negotiable. Irrespective of whether you want time to move faster or slower, the earth will spin only at this rate.
No No! I wish it was a whole number. Why should it be 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes and 46 seconds. Why not a round 365 days or 366 days.
Well it is a round 31556926 seconds. You chose to divide it into minutes, hours and days! Your inability to come up with a whole number does not make the speed of earth less perfect! I am not defining what the speed of earth should be. But once it is determined it cannot keep changing to its whims and fancies. When what ought to be done is done without negotiation it is called perfection. My heart beats faster, my eyes dilate, my muscles tense up and my voice raises not because I expect humans to fly or become a super computer to calculate and give me 1 lac search results in under a minute. But these symptoms certainly surface when what ought to be done is negotiated to settle for something much less.
People are not perfect. They will do things they like and procrastinate the things they don’t.
Let’s try this. You say ‘I like it so I do it. I don’t like that so I won’t do that’. How about executing a formula by which ‘I do it so perfectly that I begin to like it’. How can you not fall in love with your work when you do it so passionately, intensely and dedicatedly that nothing else and no one else can actually exist? When the world applauds you for a job well done, will you even for a moment think that you don’t like the job? Let us put the cart before the horse and not say ‘I don’t like it so I won’t do it’. Let us say ‘I do it so well that I begin to like it – love it!’
You cannot expect people to fill into your high expectations. They are human and will be subject to bias.
What a beautiful word – expectation! We seem to have somehow misunderstood its very purpose. Yes we have learnt to expect more from ourselves than from others. We have learnt to raise our bars for what we expect from our own selves and are very lenient when it comes to expecting from others so that we don’t rely on them to fulfil our wishes. But isn’t there another aspect to the whole thing?
In order to be peaceful, I should not expect others to fulfil my needs and lacuna. But in order to grow, I should be willing to rise up to others expectations. Every time I wanted to give up the lower and embrace the higher, that silent voice of my Guru Mahatria from within would whisper ‘I will never be satisfied with your accomplishments for I know your potential’. Trying to live up to his expectations propels me to make the right decisions. Isn’t that the role of role models and mentors? To inspire others to rise up to fill their expectations from humanity?
I remember several years ago taking my little nieces to the movies. Varsha, Kamini, Vaishnavi (my nieces) & Meenakshi (my daughter) were as usual having a laugh riot in the back seat of the car even as my husband Krishnaraj was driving at top speed to amuse them. I call them the Enchanting Four. They are my energy boosters and stress busters. It is so therapeutic to be with children and undoubtedly mine are the best. Many a friend has envied our rapport and the blessing to have such a lively foursome accompany us everywhere. We discuss everything under the sun – from boys to movies, food to clothes, ego trips to sympathy waves – an open forum for everything from baby making to attaining moksha. Over the years I have spent several holidays vacationing with them to almost feel with a sense of superiority that I know my kids in and out – their likes and dislikes, their frailties and strengths, their tears and unadulterated joy.
With such a background it was with shock I heard the squeaky childish voices from the back seat of the car scream in unison ‘We are scared of you!’ Time stood still for me with their voices reverberating for a few moments. Is this what I had accomplished – fear in the place of respect? Those words were a douche of cold water. Assuming they were in yet another way trying to pull my leg, I brushed it aside. But Kamini continued “Seriously Chitti! We are very scared of you!” “Don’t be silly!” I answered. “Why should any of you be scared of me?” The whole car reverberated with giggles and Krishnaraj promptly attested “Of course we are all terrified of you!” That just prompted greater laughter.
Vaishnavi, who loves to entertain others by imitating me, cleared her throat and said “No comments” with a tongue-in-cheek smile. I let them have their fun and turned to look into my daughter’s eyes. She promptly returned my look with the words “What ma? I am petrified of you!” and she broke out laughing. They spent most of the time talking about why they feared me. (If reading this is giving you the feeling that I must be a dictator, I am not surprised for after that conversation I almost felt the same). Kamini confessed – “You see, the minute you enter the room, we switch topics or correct our language because otherwise you will immediately correct us.” Conversationally I asked – “Why? If you are right and I am being too judgemental, just be yourself. Why change your stand on things to satisfy me?”
“It’s not like that Chitti! We are just a little naughty. We are very good girls but you want us to be even better! You are like our teacher. So you keep correcting us. That’s the whole problem!” Varsha, the oldest of the foursome tried to be diplomatic – “Not scared as in ‘scared’ Akka! It is just that you have a great benchmark for us… You expect something really big from us. So we kind of feel that pressure…” I didn’t need any time to agree with her on that count. Yes! I kept correcting their vocabulary, their appearance, their etiquette, their opinions… And Yes! I do have very high expectations from my kids. And in that moment I realised why it was so crucial to have someone expect much bigger things from us.
I silently whispered ‘Don’t ask me to change my expectations from you kiddos. That will not help you grow.’
More recently, now in college, my daughter looked with troubled eyes at me to confess ‘Ma! You have such high expectations from me it sometimes terrifies me! You make me sound like this perfect child! I wonder if you realise the pressure you are building on me…’ This time I said it out loud ‘‘Don’t ask me to change my expectations from you baby. That will not help you grow. Its not based on what you do but on what you are capable of being. Yes! You are perfect! And I expect you to stay that way…’
Many a time in my profession, I have found that when you expect people to rise above their limitations, they very often do and even if they don’t fully accomplish it, they are inspired to give their best. On the contrary, when you believe they are incapable and make it known to them that you don’t really expect much else from them anyways, most of the time, save for a very select few, they begin to limit their capabilities to the lowest ideal as they don’t have the inkling to strive for something bigger. ‘You have already cast your judgement on my capability. Why should I even strive?’ is their thought process.
The same goes the other way round too. Every time I justify why I did not or could not fulfil another’s expectation of me, (and I don’t mean the expectations of ‘doing’ but of the ‘being’), every time I compromise and say I am just human, every time I yield to the lower – yes I feel at that moment like I don’t owe any one any favours, but very soon I realise I have missed an opportunity to grow. Every time despite my limitations, I decided to live up to the expectations of my beloved God, in the processing of life, I have only gained much greater maturity and peace. It makes me whisper to Him ‘Try me Lord! Try me!’.
Yes! I am a perfectionist – not because I know everything or believe no one can know it better. But because I believe no one can ever be more dedicated or involved than me in this journey of my life striving to be passionate, involved, intense and perfect every moment as it unfolds.
And Yes! I also have enormous expectations from my God! Oh! I am serious. When I can have great expectations from humans – little children, what makes Him think He is safe from my expectations? Oh I don’t expect Him to satisfy my desires or absolve me of tough times… I don’t expect Him to make it any easier or to suddenly wipe the world of anything I consider unfit… I don’t expect Him to wait on my demands or change the world to suit my convenience… I don’t expect Him to change Himself or His laws to elevate me to the status of a Demi-God 😀
But I am a perfectionist and I expect my God to be perfect. His job is neither to sit on judgement from Heaven above nor carry the cross to absolve me of my crimes; His presence is neither to make me feel victimised nor is He here to make me a martyr; He resides in me neither to deprive me of free will nor simply watch me make a mess of my life. My perfect God has just one role in my life – He reminds me that He is around always – watching, caring, loving… By His mere presence He raises my expectations from my self. He makes me aspire to be what He designs for me. By His mere acknowledgement of me, He pulls me to evolve Higher… Deeper… Beyond…
Written by Gita Krishna Raj | Published in infinithoughts in February 2015