A Recovering Perfectionist Bans the Word Altogether

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Since her 2009 diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, Dr. Lisa Doggett has come to realize MS is no excuse to avoid challenges. Instead, it has propelled her to run two marathons, hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, and complete a 168-mile bike ride to raise awareness for MS. She is currently working on a memoir about her journey from doctor to patient.  Today she shares her struggles with trying to live a “perfect” life and why she’s accepted it’s okay to diverge from this standard. 

“Perfect!”

That’s it. I’ve said it again. And I’m wrong. There’s no such thing.

I’m a recovering perfectionist.

I have been striving for Perfect my whole life. In so much of what I do, I am chasing the unattainable. I seek to plan the ideal vacation, prepare the flawless meal, pull together the perfect outfit for a night out or work presentation. If it’s not perfect, it’s not good enough. By striving for Perfect, I am setting myself up for failure and disappointment.

So, this week, I decided to ban the word from my vocabulary.

It’s been hard. I say “perfect” a lot when I really mean “fine” or “great.” “That parking spot is perfect!” “The weather last week in California was perfect!” “Those peaches have ripened – now they’re perfect!”

That word – perfect – is a succinct, optimistic way of describing an object or experience. It imparts value; it’s a complement.

But, ultimately, it is inaccurate. It is imperfect, if you will.

The weather in California was amazing – sunny and cool, but not too cool. But the first day, it was too windy, and the last day it was too hot. La Jolla hasn’t seen substantial rain since October, so the whole area is too dry.

Hence the other reason for banning the word: part of striving for Perfect means spotting shortcomings.

I credit multiple sclerosis with nudging me to accept imperfection. MS pushed me off balance, off the charted path for my life. It helped me confront and accept my own limitations and deficiencies, but I still have work to do.

I’m particularly guilty of noticing and highlighting imperfections in my kids. My 10-year-old Clara’s hair is usually tangled. She is a picky eater. She can make a delectable omelette, but she will leave the kitchen looking like it was raided by raccoons. Ella (13) is impatient; she gets bored too easily. Her room is a mess (but not as bad as Clara’s).

I am struggling to give up that laser focus on faults, that temptation to fix everything that falls short. I’m not there yet. I haven’t even been able to stop saying the word, but then again, I’m not perfect either.

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DR. LISA DOGGETT is working on a memoir about her journey from doctor to patient with multiple sclerosis. She is a family physician in Austin and co-founder of Texas Physicians for Social Responsibility, where she currently serves as vice-president. Since her 2009 diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, Dr. Doggett has recovered from the initial shock, realizing that MS is no excuse to avoid new challenges. Instead, it has propelled her to run two marathons, hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, and travel with her kids to China. She was named a finalist for the 2016 Writers' League of Texas Manuscript Contest. In the fall of 2017, she was selected as a finalist in the Yellow Bird Editors first page contest (memoir category). Dr. Doggett graduated from Baylor College of Medicine and the University of Texas School of Public Health. She completed her medical residency in family practice at the University of Cincinnati. Visit http://www.lisadoggett.com

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