Perfectionism is defined as the refusal to accept any standard short of perfect. The refusal to accept anything that is flawed or faulted. The refusal to accept anything but the best.
The trouble is though... Perfect DOES NOT EXIST. There is nothing on this big green planet that is not in some way flawed. Yet we live in a world which makes us believe perfection is attainable. If you work hard enough at something you can achieve the ideal, the faultless, the perfect. And then because you never achieve what you believe to be perfect, you call yourself a failure. You berate yourself, you hate yourself, you compare yourself to others you believe are perfect, and then you try it all over again tomorrow.
I am an A-type personality. I expect the best from myself at all times. I constantly set new goals and feel like I am always working towards something. Or at least, that's how I used to be. Up until a few years ago, I would have described myself as a perfectionist. Nothing I ever did felt like it was good enough for the ridiculous standards I set for myself. Eventually I became fed up with chasing this absurd notion of perfection. I got tired of the guilt and shame that goes with never achieving perfect. And now I'm working on the idea that good enough is good enough. That you can only ever do your best in any given moment, and if your best is only OK, that's OK.
The problem with perfection is that we use it as a crutch. We are so afraid of doing something and it doesn't turn out perfectly, that we don't do it all. We delay our happiness, with the excuse that it's not the perfect time in which to be happy. Our deep fear of imperfection drives a fear-filled life. It stops us from living in the moment. It minimises feelings of joy and gratitude. It stunts our personal growth, and we end up with that all-too familiar feeling of being not good enough. As Brene Brown puts it, "When perfectionism is driving, shame is riding shotgun and fear is that annoying backseat driver". One simply fuels the other, and you can't lead a whole-hearted life when fear, shame and perfectionism are running the show.
I think the desire to be perfect stems from multiple issues, and to be honest I think women feel the pressure to be perfect more than men. The modern woman is required to be a mother, wife and career girl, all while looking amazing. She has several masks to wear, and within each role she needs to be doing it perfectly. There is enormous pressure from social media, societal expectations and our own inner critic. And when she doesn't get that promotion, loses her temper with her children or packs on a couple of extra kilos, the modern woman sinks further into shame and guilt about not being perfect.
I think it's time we drop the word 'perfect' from our every day dialogue. We need to stop saying so and so has perfect hair, a perfect body, a perfect life. Perfect does not exist, and we shouldn't be idealising that which cannot be attained. We need to stop punishing ourselves for not being perfect. We need to stop holding ourselves back because we are paralysed by the fear of imperfection. And we need to remember that perfectionism will never make us feel perfect.
I'm taking a silent commitment to myself, to end this dance with the devil of perfectionism. Let's see how it goes...
Have you found a similar struggle with perfectionism? I'd love to hear your thoughts on overcoming it.
Published by Gen Ferraris