8 Reasons To Ditch Perfectionism Now
The Oxford dictionary defines perfectionism as the “Refusal to accept any standard short of perfection.” I have to say, I feel kind of stressed just reading this description!
As a recovering perfectionist, I remember this mindset more than I’d like to admit.
For me, being a perfectionist refers to the behaviour of setting very specific standards for ourselves that we feel we have to meet. These standards are usually:
High or significantly challenging.
Connected to a sense (or measure) of self-worth.
For many of us, perfectionism surfaces most strongly within our career, but it doesn’t often stay there. A perfectionist mindset can influence the way we perceive or strive to change any aspect of ourselves, our life and relationships.
Alongside having the ‘perfect’ career, you might also find yourself striving to have the ‘perfect’ body, diet, car, house, clothes, haircut. Or be the ‘perfect’ boss, worker, team player, partner, daughter, son, parent, friend, colleague. The list could be endless and will shift and change depending on the labels we attach ourselves to.
For me, I associated perfectionism with a high level of accomplishment and refinement expressed through a polished performance and appearance. Something one achieves when they are really committed to their work and themselves.
It took me many years to realise that more often than not, the pursuit of ‘perfection’ means we’re constantly striving towards someone else’s ideals, which in turn means that we are constantly distracted from focussing on what really matters to ourselves as individuals.
If you desire to live life on your terms, a life that reflects your true desires and brings you endless inspiration, perfectionism could be the thing that’s getting in your way.
Here’s what I’ve learned about perfectionism, and why it’s definitely NOT our friend.
1. It creates stress and frustration
When we can only accept outcomes that are within an extremely rigid container or tight corridor, trying to control things and people becomes our default, our preferred way of operating. Guess what? We can’t control everything. Thinking that we can or should sets us up for failure and frustration… in ourselves, in our work and in other people. It means we are more likely to focus on flaws instead of talents, leading us to exist with the label of ‘nothing is ever good enough’. This is incredibly tiresome and substantially erodes our self-worth.
2. It damages relationships
Just as trying to control creates heightened stress in ourselves, being controlled feels even worse. When we try to push others into meeting our narrow expectations, we end up behaving in ways that pressurise, judge and criticise. Nobody wants to experience this. Meaning? Tension rises, resentment festers and relationships are damaged. This dynamic ironically takes us further away from ‘perfect’ than we ever imagined.
3. It is oppressive
Have you ever stopped to wonder where your ideas of perfect come from? Here’s a hint: from the dominant society. Consider what you are currently holding up as perfect. Now consider the people, bodies, jobs, situations, environments and lifestyles that are on the opposite end of this spectrum. When we commit to striving towards social ideals of perfection, we are implicitly voting YES to the structures that keep so many people in states of never feeling good enough. Vote NO by refusing to value ourselves and our lives by these external standards.
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4. It’s impossible to achieve
As you might have started to realise, one person’s perfection is another person’s failure. Meaning? Perfection doesn’t exist. With nuanced layers and constantly shifting social expectations, even our own idea of perfect is also constantly changing. For many dedicated perfectionists, the goalpost is always placed a little out of reach, or with each new level of achievement comes a new expectation of perfection that we continue to strive for. This effect reconfirms the internalised belief that nothing is ever good enough, and life is simply a series of opportunities to do, look and be ‘better’. An escape from this self-constructed hamster wheel starts with asking yourself the difficult question: “When, where and how do I stop?”
5. It’s disempowering
Ok, so you want to have the perfect job, the perfect relationship, the perfect body, life, house, family… What will you do until you have those things? How are you allowing yourself to feel until you reach your goals? What are you avoiding doing until you arrive at your vision? When you are constantly on a journey to achieving perfection, you are constantly moving away from the possibility of loving yourself RIGHT NOW. If you realise that perfectionism is a never-ending cycle, a labyrinth designed to get you lost, you will also realise that “I’ll love myself when…” becomes a destination that you’ll never arrive at.
6. It keeps us stuck
Perfectionism isn’t always a motivator to do things, sometimes it’s the opposite… it completely overwhelms us. There’s nothing particularly fun about starting something that we think we’ll fail at, no matter how much time and effort we’ll pour into it. If everything short of perfect is a failure, and for most of us failure feels bad, what happens? We might not start anything at all. This is not necessarily fear of failure, but the subtle difference of being scared of never reaching our own expectations.
7. It cuts off new learning
Let’s just say we did reach our ideal of perfect, what happens next? If we believe that there is a way to arrive at completion in any aspect of our life, we cut ourselves off from deeper learning, understanding and experiences. If we want to be a lifelong learner and live our life to the full, we have to love the mess, the chaos and the uncertainty of the process. We have to let go of the notion that there exists a state where all is ‘perfect’. A state where no more learning, amending, adjusting, tweaking (and therefore growth) is needed.
8. It’s against nature
The natural world is a beautiful display of disorder, randomness, abundance, lavishness and sometimes even coincidence. Yet… everything functions in a way that even the best scientists are often in awe at. What’s the lesson here? Out of chaos comes life and everything that we need. The process is organic. We can try and tame nature through nurturing a beautiful, structured garden, but it will never last. The moment you let your guard down the landscape becomes wild… and guess what? Nature is supposed to be wild, and that’s its real beauty.
I hope these 8 reasons leave you feeling inspired to invite the smell of wilderness into your everyday life, let loose a bit and see things as they are, not always as what they could or ‘should’ be. When we are able to work with the chaos of life, we start making things a little less complicated than they have to be.
Creation is a beautiful but messy process. However, the self-confidence you will gain through learning to love the ride of imperfections is hugely attractive and magnetic for yourself and those around you.
It’s important to remember that perfectionism is ALL ABOUT the energy behind your intentions. If a feeling in your gut or heart is drawing you to towards something that will bring you deep joy… follow it. Consider it a need.
For example, if you derive genuine happiness from dressing creatively because beautiful things bring you pleasure, because you love certain fabrics and the art of visually expressing who you are, go ahead and enjoy styling yourself. If you find yourself feeling super stressed about what to wear, or using fashion as a way to conceal the real you, to fit in, show off or impress other people (in a way that continuously depletes your happiness or energy), maybe it’s time to take a step back and consider where perfectionism is showing up.
If in doubt, always ask yourself “Why do I really want this?” If it’s about proving something outside of yourself, raise the red flag. If it’s about honouring a deep desire, need or experience that you feel is connected to your truest self, trust it. Let the magic unfold.
The world doesn’t need another person struggling along the hopeless path towards a sense of external perfection. The world needs YOU… your desires, needs, talents, skills and inspiring uniqueness. YOUR smile and laughter. YOUR courageous actions. YOUR vulnerable confessions.
Feel abundance, not scarcity. See the answer, not the problem. Love the journey, not the destination. Be comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Forget perfection and instead turn your devotion into embracing the real you. This is the kind of gift to the world that is truly priceless.