The birthplace of perfectionism lies in the gap between how we want things to be and how they actually are.
This can be frustrating to the point of making it difficult to endure our clumsy attempts at getting things done or to try something new (and uncertain).
Being a perfectionist is not about striving for excellence. It’s about trying to achieve some unrealistically high standards, usually for the sake of other people.
The dangerous side effects of such an effort may include:
Instead of risking to look incompetent, we may give up trying altogether (or procrastinate forever). Not getting things done is a way to outsmart our fear of inadequacy. We use perfectionism as a shield from failure.
Perfectionists are unfairly hard on themselves (and others). They get easily frustrated when things don’t go as planned – which is most of the time anyway. Instead of rethinking their expectations, they tend to blame themselves for not achieving – whatever there was to achieve. This attitude has the potential to make living with your (perfectionist) self on a daily basis very unpleasant.
Underneath it all, perfectionism is about love – or the hope of love. Maybe if we do everything perfectly and give others what they expect of us, we would finally feel lovable and loved. This trap was most probably set for us early in childhood when being a good girl or boy (having good grades at school, doing our homework, etc.), was what it took to get attention and love from our parents.
The price of perfectionism is the feeling of chronic fatigue that accompanies our daily life. Being very ambitious takes its toll on our mental, emotional and physical capacities. When all our energies are expended for the sake of achieving, what awaits us is most probably depression, not satisfaction.
It is not surprising that perfectionists don’t like themselves very much. The bar is set so high that nothing they accomplish seems good enough. There is always so much more to do, have and achieve, so much more to improve and perfect – they never seem to have enough proof of their worthiness.
If you are a perfectionist
– which we all are, to different extents – you are not doomed forever. There are a couple of steps you can take to pull yourself out of the perfectionist’s trap:
Lower your expectations
Sometimes it’s ok to have a mediocre work, cook average dinners and have an imperfect partner. Our life (work, house, love, children) can be far from perfect but still be good enough. If we set reasonable goals, it does not mean we are compromising quality. It means we are aware that perfection was not on the menu in the first place.
Don’t put your self-worth on the table
In our society it is easy to conclude that how we look or how much money we make is a determinant of our worth as human beings. That’s how we were raised and that is what the whole advertising industry is proposing. But you don’t need to buy into it. You are not what you achieve. Anthony Bourdain would still be alive, if achievement alone mattered that much.
Dare to be disappointing and ordinary
This is not a joke. It’s a good thing to confess our limitations and shortcomings. It makes us real and it helps to let go of the illusion that perfection and exceptionality is what attracts our friends, collegues and family towards us. You can relax and believe you are lovable not in spite of your imperfections but because of them.
Let go of comparison
Since childhood we are encouraged to compete with others. Who runs faster, who has higher grades, who has a more expensive bicycle (car, house, yacht – the stakes rise with age). Comparison can be a real joy-killer. Facebook doesn’t help either. It seems like everyone else is having such a good time while we are the only ones punished with a boring job and faltering sex life. In reality, nobody’s really doing so great. Dare to step out of the comparison loop – everyone will benefit from your courage.
Not when you loose those extra couple of pounds. Love yourself now. There will always be something to be accomplished, money to be earned, beauty to be chased. Our to-do lists are endless but our life is not. And perfectionism is not worth the effort.
Let go of it and enjoy your imperfect life in an imperfect world.