Being a perfectionist ain’t fun. It’s stressful, alienating, and basically a big ol’ buzzkill. And more than likely one of the reasons I drink wine.
Check out Wikipedia’s definition about the whimsy that is perfectionism: “Perfectionism, in psychology, is a personality trait characterized by a person’s striving for flawlessness and setting excessively high performance standards, accompanied by overly critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others’ evaluations.” Now don’t everyone run out and befriend a perfectionist all at once!
Some people were born with personalities bent toward perfectionism and some developed the need because as children they were told they weren’t “good enough” or for whatever reason believed that. So those folks live with a sense of being perpetual failures and believe that being perfect will fix that.
The thing is … it’s impossible to be perfect. It just is. So why would anyone lock in on the notion that perfectionism is a solution? Well, we probably didn’t consciously. It just happens, like any addiction that develops slowly and then – you’re hooked. (C’mon … give it a try. Just one time.) Most people don’t consciously think, “I must do anything and everything I can to be perfect and step on those who are in my way of me being perfect and give up enjoying my life to be perfect. Yay, me.” What really happens is that there’s an internal mantra that plays over and over and over inside of us that drives everything we think, do, and say down the road futilely racing toward perfection. Guess what. The road never ends.
Needing to be perfect has many times messed up my ability to make decisions or step out to try new things because “if I can’t do it perfectly, I’d rather not do it at all! Dammit.” Don’t get me wrong, I make quick decisions most of the time. Just ask my optometrist. No one is quicker than me at picking “which one looks better: One or two? Three or four?” But launching new projects is not a strength of mine because there are unknowns, which can lead to … that’s right, mistakes. Oh my God, noooooo!!!
Am I cursed to live with this disease for the rest of my life? Will I forever be looking at things with an auditor’s eye? No. I have taken the first step, which is admitting I have a problem. I have acknowledged and accepted that perfectionism isn’t a good thing. (I used to think it was. It made me feel superior.) It’s certainly a positive trait to want to do things well, but it’s equally important to end striving for perfection and, thus, end the misery and exhaustion. Perfectionists can take forever to finish anything because we’re always seeing ways to improve. It’s never ending, unless we make the conscious choice to end it.
Dr. Brene Brown is one of my new favorite self-help authors who I first discovered on TED Talks. (video below) I’ve been reading her book The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed To Be and Embrace Who You Are. In it she offers great insights to why people are perfectionists and how to break the cycle so that we can live free and happy lives. Imagine learning to embrace mistakes and choosing to learn from them instead of being shamed by them. Mistakes are the best teachers.
Also imagine how your choice to live free of perfectionism will affect those around you. The proverbial eggshells will be swept away and, as you allow yourself to be you, they will feel freer to be them. Just be you – warts and all. To quote a lyric from singer/songwriter Jessie J, “It’s okay not to be okay.” Okay?