I used to think of myself as a perfectionist. I didn’t tell people that. But it was a strong belief I had about myself. And I thought of it as a positive trait. In my mind I used to think that whoever saw me striving for perfection would admire my work ethic and quality of work. I thought of it almost like a badge of honor and I wore it proudly.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not completely out of the woods in the area of perfectionism. I still slip into this way of thinking sometimes. It can be really sneaky. But, I’m more aware of my thoughts about this now and I’m aware of the areas of my life where it shows up most for me.
I’m sure my perfectionist tendencies started when I was younger than this but it’s really clear to me that I took this to a whole new level around the time when I got started with my teaching career and then got married.
I put a lot of pressure on myself to fit into the ideal I created in my mind for who I should be as a teacher and a wife. Looking back I see that it sucked so much joy out of these amazing experiences.
I piled on more in the way of perfectionism when, in my mid thirties, I became a new mom, accepted a new teaching position in my own community, and started to get more involved in my community.
I can look back now and see that I jumped into these new roles with expectations of myself that were completely unrealistic. I was striving to be flawless in every aspect of my life. That striving for perfection came at the expense of my emotional well-being.
Here’s the thing: At the time, I wasn’t even aware of what I was doing. I knew I felt terrible. I knew I was overly stressed, anxious, and exhausted by everything I was thinking and doing. But I didn’t realize I was creating this with my thoughts. Nor did I see a way out.
Here’s the other thing: If you struggle with this, you’re not alone and I’m here to help you!
So first, I want to bring an awareness to the idea of perfectionism by first explaining what it is.
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Perfectionism is defined as a refusal to accept anything that’s less than perfect. When we’re honest about the reality that NOTHING is perfect then we can see that perfectionists would have a hard time seeing anything as being good enough.
Here are 10 things you may be thinking or doing that might tell you that you’re striving for perfection:
1.You’re afraid to fail. You might have goals you haven’t met or projects you’ve left unfinished because you don’t want to face the possibility of failure. So instead, you quit. In your mind choosing to quit or leave things unfinished is safer than facing the fear of failure.
2. You have physical clutter or scattered thinking. These often lead you to feel stressed and overwhelmed so you spin in indecision and procrastinate.
3. You have what you call ‘high expectations’ of yourself and everyone around you. But if you’re being honest, you really expect that everything is done perfectly. Whether you do it or someone else does it, it needs to be done flawlessly.
4. You live your life with black or white, all or nothing, 0 or 100%, or right or wrong thinking.
5. You seek validation, approval, and answers from confident people that you trust because you don’t trust yourself.
6. You struggle to receive constructive feedback without feeling defensive.
7. You’re critical and judgmental of yourself and others.
8. You procrastinate or leave things unfinished. Not finishing things feels better than having to face the fear of failure.
9. You feel a lot of guilt and shame from the constant thoughts that you’re not enough and you’re letting everyone down, including yourself.
10. You’re hustling to get everything done. Often you do this because you’re in a hurry to prove your worthiness. You also often think that your life will be so much better when whatever you have on your list finally gets done.
I’m leaving you with a quote about perfectionism from Elizabeth Gilbert as food for thought:
“I think perfectionism is just fear in fancy shoes and a mink coat, pretending to be elegant when actually it’s just terrified. Because underneath that shiny veneer, perfectionism is nothing more than a deep existential angst that says, again and again, ‘I am not good enough and I will never be good enough.”
If this information sounds deeply familiar, I want you to know that I see you and you’re not alone. Knowing about perfectionism and how it’s showing up in your life is helpful even though you might feel really vulnerable right now.
Just start with getting curious and lead with self compassion. Knowing more about who you are and why you do what you do could be the beginning of a relationship with yourself that you never imagined you could create. If you want help with this, please reach out in the comments or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You are enough, dear friend.
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