Today I want to talk to you about the the way our society erroneously glorifies perfectionism. It can be one of the most difficult concepts to overcome because it is often seen as a positive. In reality, the need to be “perfect” is often debilitating and life-altering. Let’s explore why this may be the case.
“Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. It is not about healthy achievement and growth. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame. Perfectionism is at its core, about trying to earn approval and acceptance” -Brene Brown (The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are)
I watch GMA (Good Morning America) all the time (that may be changing soon). Every episode is filled with pop-culture and what’s going one with those in Hollywood. During a recent episode I decided to pay attention every time they mentioned the word “perfect”. During this particular episode I noticed that it was said at least six times (I think I stopped counting after that). It was used as a positive of course to describe the way someone looked, dressed, behaved or what they had accomplished. Some of the comments made included things like “she has the perfect hair”, “he’s the perfect guy”, or “its the perfect location”. It’s no wonder we are so messed up!! Even if you are a person who is conscious and aware that perfection is an unattainable ideal, seeing and hearing about it so frequently, does invade our subconscious. How could it not? Look at this Vince Lombardi quote.
“Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence”
When I first heard this quote I thought, yes, that is so true. Strive for perfection and even if I fall short, I will be perceived as excellent! But is that the message that we are getting from all of the visual images we see everywhere? Strive for excellent? I think not, we want perfection, the unattainable. When I had my business I worked really hard, I took my work everywhere with me and I belabored every detail. I would work on a design or concept into the wee hours of the night. I saw that hard work really paid off. I was taught to value this concept and I still do. Where I went off the rails is when I belabored some aspect of my work, past the point of good sense trying to make everything “perfect”. For a while striving for perfection worked and things were really good, I was pretty excited, even if I was exhausted and not really present in my life. But in the end this desire to be “perfect” turned out to be unsustainable and eventually burned me out. When I closed my design business in 2011 I was exhausted. I didn’t want anything to do with websites for almost a year. If you know me then you know how much I loved ReEmergence and that I must have been really burned out to walk away from it. I birth it in 2000 and built it for 11 years. It was something I was so proud of and I did great work for so many clients. But my health and happiness took priority over anything else. Stepping away was the best thing I could have ever done for myself and my two boys. It gave me wonderful perspective. First I will tell you what I learned about myself, some things that even as I write them, I cringe.
- My desire to be perfect didn’t allow me to set clear boundaries with some of my clients. I would commit to work that really was outside of what I should do but I didn’t want to even conceive that I couldn’t achieve that level of work.
- I had a hard time being satisfied. My good enough was never good enough even when others said that it was. I had a hard time believing and accepting compliments. I still do sometimes, I am really working on this.
- I had a lot of negative self-talk that fed my desire to be perfect. I was constantly feeding the message that I wasn’t good enough to myself by the things I was replaying in my mind. Quieting negative self-talk is absolutely imperative to your healing. You may not even be aware that you are doing it.
- My desire to be perfect had roots in my childhood around pleasing my Dad. He had high standards for me and I remember feeling like I let him down when I didn’t graduate at the top of my class. He left my graduation early. I remember looking for him after graduation and realizing that he had left. I felt ashamed and sad. I felt not good enough even though I made good grades and did graduate in the top 10% of my class, it just wasn’t good enough.
The good stuff…
- I started learning to accept myself and love myself just as I am, flaws and all.
- I started believing that my good enough, IS GOOD ENOUGH!
- I started practicing positive self-talk daily.
- I started focusing on hard work, but with boundaries.
Perfectionism is unattainable!! No one is perfect, no matter what you have been led to believe. It is self-destructive to strive for this ideal. Remember to practice self-compassion and be kind to yourself. Your best is good enough!! Dig deep and figure out the source of your perfectionism. Even if you think you are not, look again, all of us have a little perfectionism in us. Yours may be cleaning, clothes, working out, etc. Make sure that you know the source so you can confront it. Let us begin the road to overcoming our perfectionism.