I used to put perfectionist as a character strength on my CV when I was younger, and it was something I wore as a badge of honour as I got older. I was proud to be seen as perfect.
But the funny thing was I knew it was an illusion, that there is no such thing as perfect, yet I still aimed for it.
It had become an expectation I’d unconsciously set for myself
that I had to maintain in everything I did.
When I challenged this belief and it’s role in my life, I realised I’d attached the word perfect to being the best, and it was causing me so much unnecessary pain…
- down time was filled with things I could do to improve on,
- achievement was brushed off with ‘well of course I should’ve got that’, and immediately followed up with ‘what’s the next thing I have to work on?’ and,
- activities were assessed on how successful or worthwhile they’d be, over and above simply having fun.
Because here’s the thing, when you claim yourself as a perfectionist you become paralysed by the fear of not being good enough, and you end up placing your entire sense of worth on being productive and successful 24/7.
As a result, you end up hiding in order to feel safe. And in the process of hiding you stop trying new things, you cut self-exploration out of the picture, and you shy away from spontaneity and fun.
And this is why people who aim for perfect continually feel dissatisfied.
So what can you do about it?
Releasing perfectionism starts with giving yourself permission to play, and learning to do things without attaching specific outcomes to them.
For me I started by picking up a hobby I’d always been interested in (embroidery), and allowing myself to be a complete beginner.
I’m not going to lie, at first it felt uncomfortable, as I wasn’t used to doing things for myself in this way. But the more I leaned into it, the better it felt. I started to embrace mistakes, seeing them as natural steps in my growth, I became completely at ease with creating things others didn’t comment on, and most of all I started re-designing what it meant to be successful on my own terms – terms which included my new found sense of play.
And this is what I wanted to share with you this month, as you approach the end of the year. This is typically the time where you become stressed and anxious over getting things right, and judging yourself harshly for not meeting expectations – whether it’s in your relationships, your work, your body, or your activities. If you’re experiencing this, I invite you to challenge your relationship with perfectionism and success –
- What did you receive praise for growing up / How did you know you’d done something good?
- What lesson, or beliefs, did you learn from this around what determines if someone’s good enough or not? How did this influence your behaviour?
- What do you need to release in order to trust in your innate goodness? How could a sense of play support you with this?
Be gentle on yourself, and always with love,