I was a perfectionist for years. It was my excuse for unreasonably high standards, for never being satisfied with myself, and for my unquenchable drive. I convinced myself that whatever I did I could do better, and more than that, that I should do better. I was praised for my perfectionism and encouraged to continue obsessing over reaching extreme measures of achievement. I was on a constant quest for validation through behavior and performance. It was exhausting and an awful way to live, even though on the outside I maintained a facade of composure and cool, on the inside I was crumbling and overridden with anxiety.
Perfectionism almost destroyed me. I put an end to it right before it almost put an end to me. Caught in a world of never-feeling-good-enough, I got tired of always wanting to be five pounds skinnier, two pay-grades higher and flawlessly organized, able to do it all and be it all. The weight of the anxiety and pressure prevented me from feeling fully alive and able to engage authentically in life. I put up a good front, but on the inside I always felt unsettled. When I turned twenty-five I decided that I had had enough. I decided to stop bullying myself over unattainable measures of success that no one else cared about. Saying “no” to perfectionism gave me the freedom I yearned for – the freedom to actually enjoy life.
Perfectionism taught me that life could be enjoyed when I finally reached the standard of perfection I was pursuing. It convinced me that happiness existed in the future and that the present was to be spent working hard and focusing on the future. All of those “lessons” were lies – they were robbing me of the present and making happiness a fleeting fantasy impossible to feel in the flesh. I am free, now that I am a recovering perfectionist. You can be free too. This freedom gives me permission to be myself and to have the pursuit of being the best version of me be enough. Instead of the pressure to always do more and always be better, there is only the pressure to become more of who I can be, and that kind of pressure is a positive pressure, the kind that makes you wake up with enthusiasm for the day.
Perfectionism is the crutch and excuse of the highly motivated. Often touted as a positive character trait, it is actually quite the opposite, promoting unrealistic and unreasonable expectations. It keeps go-getters from getting what they really want in life because it keeps them running in circles, going nowhere.
So, what is the problem with wanting to be perfect?
The problem with perfectionism and perfectionistic thinking is that it is more damaging than beneficial for us. Perfectionism causes us to put immense pressure on ourselves, striving for often-undefined standards that change and get further away the closer we seem to get. Trying to be perfect can cause self-destructive behaviors and cause us a life of unhappiness and loneliness. Perfectionism is based in a fixed-mindset, meaning growth is immutable and performance is constantly based in validation. Instead, the antidote to perfectionism is the pursuit of progress, or, the commitment to a growth-mindset, which allows for constant growth, development and the freedom to make and learn from inevitable mistakes.
Perfection doesn’t exist. Perfect is impossible and unworthy of being pursued. It’s a trap and one that will keep you frustrated and unhappy. The fact that we true to pursue it anyways is the sign that we are living in the quest of approval or affirmation rather than in the pursuit of living well itself. Ultimately, we strive for perfection because we yearn for happiness, but happiness doesn’t come from living a perfect life, happiness comes from living a life well lived.
To walk away from perfectionism for good you first must understand just how toxic it is to your soul and well-being. I struggled with perfectionism my whole life, and I tell you that because if I can go into recovery, you can too. A natural Type-A personality, it came naturally to me. I was praised and rewarded extensively for my perfectionist attitude in school, in work and in life. The very thing that made others admire me and accelerated my productivity was the very thing that almost destroyed my spirit, leading to an eating disorder that lasted nearly ten years. Perfectionism was my excuse for unhealthy and extreme behaviors and my cop-out for not being satisfied in life or with myself for just being myself.
Join me in fighting against the pursuit of perfectionism and against the label of being a perfectionist. As you lead yourself and others to new levels of happiness know that there are three major problems perfectionism can cause if you continue to let be part of your life. I hope this post will inspire you to stand next to me and declare yourself as a recovering perfectionist.
The First Problem with Perfectionism:
It Defeats Your Initiative
Perfectionists often struggle with taking action on their dreams because they are waiting for the perfect time to start something. If you are constantly waiting for perfect conditions, in any situation, you will never get your foot out the door to start anything. There is no such thing as “the perfect time” so make the perfect time happen by taking action now. Ditch the overthinking and trust yourself to figure out the hiccups of forward movement as you move and do that thing you want to do.
Perfectionists also delay taking initiative on their own personal growth, development and confidence because they live with a mentality of thinking that they will be loveable, respectable or acceptable once they finally fix that one thing about themselves. As a result, they are hesitant to complete something they have set out to do because no matter what, the finish line of success they are striving to cross is constantly moving. The truth is that you are worthy of love and all that you need right now, simply because you are you – a child of God. There is nothing you can do, and no measure of being perfect, that will make you more lovable or more valuable.
The Second Problem with Perfectionism:
It Damages Relationships
The pursuit of perfectionism makes us self focused. There is a place for personal development and self-focus in our journey towards personal growth, however, perfectionism takes this focus to an extreme, narcissistic place.
How we do one thing is how we do everything. Therefore, when we are harsh on ourselves, we will be inevitably harsh on others as well, even if we don’t intend to be. Furthermore, the more pressure we put on ourselves, the more others will notice around us, and they will subconsciously feel the pressure as well. Relationships get damaged as a side-effect of perfectionism for a variety of reasons, but the main reason being that perfectionism prevents the perfectionist from being sincerely engaged in life and in the lives of others. Perfectionists become so self-focused that it is hard to love others as well as they could. Relationships are all about give-and-take, love and grace, and perfectionists struggle to accept love and grace because they would rather “earn” it than for it to be freely “given.” This inability to take a compliment and the emotional disconnection that ensues makes healthy and balanced relationships hard to maintain for the perfectionist.
The Third Problem with Perfectionism:
It Destroys Your Happiness
Nobody likes a nag, and perfectionists are nags; they are their own nags. Perfectionists are their own worst bullies and are constantly engaged in self-berating and self-criticism as a way to motivate themselves to better action. This internal nagging can cause unhappiness. It is impossible to feel at peace and to experience contentment in life if you allow the bully in your mind to stay. When you bully yourself because of the pursuit of perfectionism it becomes difficult to love yourself or accept yourself. Without love and acceptance it becomes difficult to feel free to be your authentic self, and without being your authentic self it becomes difficult to be truly happy. Furthermore, it is happiness that leads to success (as opposed to success leading to happiness), so your happiness matters. As you turn your back on perfectionism you can start to be more free to be your most authentic self and you will start to see all the good and wonderful gifts, talents, voice, and stories you have to share with this world.
Kick the bully out and let more happiness in.
The bully – or the pressure of perfectionism – is not a good motivator. Motivation of this type, often called shame-based motivation is never sustainable. Brene Brown, author of the book, I thought It Was Just Me: Women Reclaiming Power and Courage in a Culture of Shame, talks about shame motivation and shame resilience. Shame is a cage that prevents us from living freely – it darkens our hearts and our spirits and keeps us from having the ability to experience true happiness. Furthermore Brown identifies one of the side effects of perfectionism as being something that divides us, keeping us from being our most authentic selves, ultimately keeping us from happiness. She writes, “When we begin to blame and hate our bodies for failing to live up to our expectations, we start splitting ourselves in parts and move away from our wholeness – our authentic selves.”
Her words are powerful. When we focus on picking apart our body for not living up to a perfect ideal the result is that we split ourselves into parts. In such we will never be able to see ourselves as a whole, and if we want to live true to our authentic self, we must be able to see ourselves as a whole. It is when we embrace our supposed imperfections that we can then see ourselves wholly and authentically. This authenticity leads to better self-love and self-honor, ultimately allowing us to experience more authentic joy and happiness.
You are perfect being beautifully imperfect. Give yourself permission to live, give yourself permission to turn your back on perfectionism. Rebel against perfectionism with me by following the below tenants of confidence:
- Declare that you are a “Recovering Perfectionist” and stop allowing yourself to use the phrase “Well, I’m just a perfectionist” as an excuse or justification for anything you do. The justification of perfectionism only steals life from you. Make the decision to live a life well lived, which is a life filled with imperfections, unexpected adventures, growth, vulnerability and authenticity.
- Celebrate the progress you make in your personal development and growth. By celebrating the process of the journey instead of the destination you will be better equipped to live confidently and fully in the present. Perfectionism steals our presents from us by making us obsessed with our futures. Life is too short to miss out on. Every moment matters, every day counts. Stop worrying about what you can become tomorrow and instead use your energy to savor today.
- Invite others in. Be a leader in the anti-perfectionism movement and encourage your family, friends and co-workers to join in the rebellion with you. Tell them what you tell yourself – that it is your responsibility to do your best at what you do every day, but that’s where the pressure ends. You don’t need to be perfect, because perfect doesn’t even exist. All you need to do is to be the best version of you. Be the perfect version of you by investing in your growth mentally, physically and spiritually each and every day. Doing this will empower you to be you, and by being you, you will be free.
Yours in anti-perfectionism,
PS > If this post resonated with you and you want personalized coaching on overcoming perfectionism, perfectionistic thinking body image issues, body dysmorphia or self-doubt, I would love for you to consider joining me in The College of Confidence or as a one-on-one coaching client. Don’t hesitate to comment or email me directly (trish [at] trishblackwell.com) with any questions – I am ready to help you stop feeling stuck in the shadows and to help you stop hiding from the world. You were created for so much more and God wants so much more for you too!