Dairy Queen Dilemma

I had an epiphany this morning.  Actually, I have probably known this for quite sometime but I just allowed myself to recognize the truth.  Perfectionism is not all it is cracked up to be.

There….I said it.  I have always thought that striving for perfection was a noble act – even one that should earn me extra points in life; but I have been deceiving myself.

I have lived my entire life following the adage If you are going to do something, then do it right the first time.  As a young child this would apply to the chores that I was asked to do each week.  If I knew that I had to vacuum the house – then I should vacuum the house right the first time.  Otherwise, a haphazard job would require me to do it again – which would mean less time for fun.

As I grew older, Do it Right the First Time would have more pragmatic applications, such as, precisely follow the recipe for chocolate truffles or repurchase the expensive ingredients for round two.

Several years ago a group of friends took me to Dairy Queen for the first time (yes, I had lived a rather sheltered life).   Some of the ladies knew that they were going to order their “usual” — some knew they wanted to try the special of the month — and some were pleased to develop their own concoction.  I just stared at the menu in utter disbelief.  I was told that I needed to order a blizzard – but where should I begin?  Did I want to go the chocolate route – with chocolate syrup and candy fixings?  Or did I want to appear more healthy by ordering a fruit blend with no syrup?  The various combinations seemed too numerous for me to choose and so instead I chose to walk out with nothing.  While I have since learned to navigate the ice cream menu, my first DQ visit continues to be the joke of the social circle.

But last night I realized that this is really not a laughing matter.  As I was cleaning up the nook getting ready for bed I realized that I had no fewer than 8 different books on the couch next to me.

  1. I started reviewing Inner Excavation in the hopes that it might jog my memory for a writing prompt (and my journal was next to me just in case inspiration came).  
  2. That then led me to read a bit more of Caroline Kennedy’s collection of poems, She Walks in Beauty.  While I enjoyed a few of these poems I remembered that … 
  3. I had borrowed one of Mary Oliver’s books on poetry from the library and I thought I might be inspired to write if I read a few of her poems as well.  
  4. So far, nothing really moved me to write myself so I decided to pick up Virginia Woolf’s essay of women and fiction and began reading A Room of One’s Own.  I have never read Woolf and found the long paragraphs so dense that I could really only digest a few pages before I felt I needed to stop and mediate for awhile. 
  5. Well, what better way to meditate than with a magazine?  So I picked up the latest edition of Writer’s Digest that I had just purchased and began reading.  The article on Food Writing with Flavor reminded me that … 
  6. I had just picked up Molly Wizenberg’s book, A Homemade Life, this week and that would be a great way to see in action what I had just read in theory.  The thought of writing about food reminded me of my upcoming trip to Paris and the fact that I not only want to write – but I want to take pictures as well.
  7.   This made me select Rick Sammon’s Confessions of a Compact Camera Shooter off my shelf to educate myself on the proper composition of a good photo.  Reading about taking pictures made me long for the day when I would actually get on the plane and fly to Paris so … 
  8. I decided to curb that longing by reading about the locale in the Impressionists’ Paris.  By this time it was nearly midnight and I was exhausted.

As I was cleaning up all these books before going to bed I realized my problem.  No, I am not ADD, in fact I am the direct opposite.  I am probably the most singularly focused person in my household.  BUT…I am afraid that the book I am reading now is not the BEST book to read.  There may be one that would suit me better — and so I continue to go in search for fear that I am settling for just mediocre.

I look at the bookshelves that surround me.  My book collection has grown exponentially in the past three years – and yet, I find that I am reading less.  WHY?  I think it is because choice stymies me.  I am afraid to delve into one book because there may be another that is better – that is – perfect.

This pattern repeated itself again today – in the fabric store.  I went with friends to the local quilt shop.  I had a great idea to make a Sudoku Quilt (I am in love with this concept) and went in search of nine different fabrics.  I even had the idea of using nine different watercolor fabrics (or batiks) in honor of the Impressionists.  I also wanted to incorporate a lot of purple in honor of my new grandmother role.  I had lots of ideas.

And when we got to the store I immediately headed for that aisle.  And there I stood – for hours (well, minutes anyway). Pondering all the lovely colors but totally incapable of making any decisions.  I left the store empty-handed – much like I left Dairy Queen several years ago.

I am obviously missing the boat.  I have taken this perfectionism thing much too far.  I am denying myself pleasure in life because I am afraid there is a better choice out there.

Why must I think of this as an either/or decision?  So what if the blizzard flavor today isn’t exactly what I want?  I can always return next week and try something else.  So what if the fabrics selected do not render a Impressionist painting?  What have I learned from the mistake?  How much did it cost me — a twenty dollar bill and a few hours time?

I think that I am on to something — but I am not sure where to go from here.  Obviously changes need to take place; shifts in thought processing are in order.  I think it is time to stop standing on the shore of life – stop dipping in the big toe and just jump in with both feet.


  • Vasilly

    Good for you for realizing that trying to be perfect is holding you back! I think we all have the urge to do something "right" the first time but practice is always a great thing. I recently watched this cooking show on Food Network. The chef was making a garlic soup and he stated that it took him 68 TIMES to get the recipe right! 68 times!!! That blew me away. Figuring out the right combination of ingredients was so important to him that he tried this recipe over and over again. But he also had a passion for what he was doing.

    There's nothing wrong with wanting to read a perfect book but some of those imperfect reads can be just as great. Good luck to you.

  • Liz

    Here's a secret for the next time you go look at fabric – if you don't use it in this project it will probably be the perfect fabric for another project:) You can never have too much fabric! Or ice cream:)

  • Anonymous

    I say don't just put a toe in, jump in with both feet and then jump up and down and get muddy! LOL

    I understand about perfectionism and to show that I am working on mine as well, I am purposefully leaving my house uncleaned for another week. I ate oatmeal for dinner because we didn't feel like going out and there was almost nothing in the pantry (my husband had the last of the cheese and crackers). I might even misspell a word and leave it that way (nah!). I say, have a chocolate fudge sundae instead of a blizzard!

  • Robin McCormack

    My problem isn't perfectionism, it's too many choices. Too many things just shut my brain down. I have to know what I'm looking for when I go into the store. Not list to go by, I end up buying nothing.

    So glad you decided to jump in with both feet and just go for it and not worry about whether its right or wrong. At the time, it's right. yes?

  • Cathy Bueti

    Oh Molly, I got chills reading this post because I can relate to so much of it! I am a perfectionist and a worrier, have been most of my life. It is so hard for others to understand what that is like.

    I am glad you are getting ready to jump!! I will jump with you!! xo

  • Sandy Nawrot

    I think it takes alot of insight and self-knowledge to be able to admit this kind of thing, so I think that means you are 2/3 there. My mom is exactly the opposite…she buys everything impulsively, only to bring half of it back later. There has to be a happy in-between!

  • Catherine Ensley

    This struck me as an excellent "first essay" for a NF book on overcoming perfectionism. You've mentioned the problem of your perfectionism in other posts, but this one really nails your dilemma. Now … chronicle how you overcome your issue in another 250 pages (how many posts is that?) and you've written a NF book on the subject. In the bargain, you have not only a ms for possible publication, but you have also transformed yourself! (I feel for your pain. My brain works an awful lot like yours. Perfectionism ends up looking like the worst case of procrastination imaginable.)

  • Florinda

    I think you've had an important insight, Molly – now to figure out what to do with it. I went through this a few years ago; for me, it was related to control issues and difficulty letting go. I've been working on it for awhile, and I'm a lot more relaxed now :-). Good luck!

  • Jenners

    Oh I love the idea of a Sudoku quilt. How cool! And I think you need to start taking leaps without looking a little bit every day until it gets easier. Part of the fun of life is finding out what happens when things don't quite work.

  • Jenners

    I love the idea of a Sudoku quilt. How cool? And part of the fun of life is seeing what happens when things don't quite go perfectly! Some times you just need to leap before you look!

  • Thomas at My Porch

    Please tell me you have since enjoyed the sweet ambrosia that is Dairy Queen. No matter what kind of fantastic and sophisticated food I may eat I still love the DQ like you wouldn't believe.

    My advice would be to just start with a vanilla cone. That is perfection. Then on trip number two, get a chocolate dipped vanilla cone…

  • Alyce

    The sudoku quilt sounds like so much fun (although I'm not a quilter, so it's more fun to me as an idea and less as a project to actually do).

    DQ choices can be overwhelming. I always go back and forth between the Hawaiian blizzard and the Pecan mudslide (usually choosing the latter). They're both so good though, and DQ has become a rarer treat because I'm trying to eat healthy – that makes the decision even more difficult. 🙂

  • Kathleen

    I'm always so grateful for your posts that touch on these issues. I have suffered with my perfectionism over the years and as you know, suffering really is the right word. I have gotten much better but taking it one day at a time and reminding myself that it is okay to make the "wrong" choice for things that are trivial. Some days that is easier than others to follow.

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