This is a guest post by my friend Wendy from Ditch Perfect. I’m really excited to share this with you because I know perfectionism holds many of us back from living simple, intentional lives; we keep things we don’t need or we hold back from chasing our dreams because we’re afraid of not being good enough. If you can relate, keep reading – Wendy shares a few truth bombs we all need to hear!
Letting go of my perfectionism – a few years ago this would have terrified me. I felt I was strong because of my perfectionism. I felt I was successful because of my perfectionism. My perfectionism was what made me… well, me. Now I know better.
Ever since I was a kid I loved going to school. I was a good student and was praised as such. All through school and college I proudly called myself a perfectionist. Being diligent and extremely detail oriented, favoring quality over quantity, preferring to work alone, holding myself to high standards, and working in a structured and organized manner; those were just some of my perfectionistic tendencies. You might recognize them in yourself.
I was convinced that these habits of perfectionism got me the good results I got. Up until I entered the workplace that is. All those tendencies and impulses ended up getting me nowhere. Quickly, I realized two things: 1. I needed to get another job where my talents weren’t wasted; 2. I had to let go of my perfectionism.
To be able to let go of my perfectionism, I needed to get back to the basics. I needed to unpeel the layers to get to the truth of what perfectionism is and how it affects myself and those around me.
Today, I want to share with you the truths I learned along the way, so that you don’t have to go through the same struggles I did when overcoming your perfectionism.
5 DIFFICULT TRUTHS ABOUT PERFECTIONISM
Let’s start with the hard part. These five difficult truths about perfectionism may not be pleasant to hear, but they must be heard all the same.
TRUTH #1: PERFECTIONISM IS NEGATIVE BEHAVIOR
Let’s get one thing out of the way, perfectionism is not your superpower. It’s a fear-based response to insecurity and uncertainty.
Those moments when you feel insecure or uncertain, like when you meet your in-laws for the first time or when you’re faced with a deadline on an important work project, trigger a thought pattern within you that goes like this: ‘If I do this perfectly or have a perfect life or look perfect, I am in control and therefore people can’t hurt me or see me for who I really am.’
Perfectionism turns you into a people-pleasing hustler. You’re trying to control how people perceive you or the work you do. But it doesn’t work that way. You can’t make other people like you. You can’t control perception.
TRUTH #2: PERFECTIONISM IS NOT THE SAME AS STRIVING FOR EXCELLENCE
The biggest myth out there is that perfectionism is about striving for excellence. Striving for excellence would mean focusing on personal growth and healthy achievement: ‘How can I improve?’.
Instead, being a perfectionist means you’re externally motivated and focused on the other: ‘What will they think? Will they like me? Will they think my effort is good enough?’
Next time you think ‘I need this to be perfect!’, ask yourself why. Usually the answer is that you’re scared that people won’t like you, that it won’t be good enough, or that you fear failure, disapproval, making mistakes, and/or being criticized.
TRUTH #3: PERFECTIONISM IS NOT THE KEY TO SUCCESS
How many times have you not done something you actually wanted to do, because knowing you wouldn’t be perfect (or even good) at it right from the start made you anxious?
I know I have. For the longest time I didn’t sign up for a mandala drawing class I was interested in, because I couldn’t bear the thought of other people seeing my very imperfect drawings.
Perfectionism leads you down one road and one road only: comparison, procrastination, and overwhelm. It doesn’t help you achieve your goals. In fact, it holds you back and hinders growth and achievement.
TRUTH #4: PERFECTIONISM MAKES YOU HOLD ON TO ALL THE WRONG THINGS
Perfectionism is very much about how you think things should be and about how you think YOU should be. Perfectionists don’t only set unattainable goals, but they also have very strict standards. There’s only one way to do things right, so that one way is the way to go.
It’s exhausting and restrictive. The irony is that this holding tight to the idea of perfection creates the exact opposite result, because it’s actually standing in your way. The illusion of perfection keeps you stifled and unable to move forward.
TRUTH #5: PERFECTIONISM LEADS TO ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION
A recent study from Oklahoma State University shows that perfectionism is directly linked to anxiety and depression. The quest for perfection causes some of life’s worst mental problems because it makes life’s imperfections into bothersome, intimidating, and unsurpassable roadblocks.
Perfectionism causes you to lose sight of who you are and what’s important to you, because you’re constantly focused on pleasing and winning approval from others. It eats away at your self-worth.
5 ENCOURAGING TRUTHS ABOUT PERFECTIONISM
Most perfectionists know that their perfectionism isn’t helping them and that it causes problems in their lives. But, as I know from experience, actually taking the steps to let go of perfectionism can seem terrifying. That’s why I’m bringing you five more truths that hopefully encourage and empower you to take that first step.
TRUTH #1: PERFECTIONISM IS NOT SOMETHING YOU’RE BORN WITH
You’re not a born perfectionist. It’s not wired into your DNA. There’s no perfectionism gene. It sometimes can seem that way, because you’re modeled perfectionism from a very young age. Your parents might be perfectionists themselves and school urges your perfectionist tendencies on and even rewards you for it with straight A’s. Magazines, billboards, and TV shows paint you the perfect picture of what your body, relationships, and life should look like.
The ideal of perfection can seem difficult to escape, but it can be done. If you remind yourself that perfectionism is simply a thought pattern that causes you to act a certain way, taking that first step toward overcoming your perfectionism won’t seem nearly as difficult.
TRUTH #2: YOU CAN CHANGE YOUR THOUGHTS AND BEHAVIOR
Thoughts can be disregarded. Behavior can be unlearned. As you start to let go of your perfectionism you’ll notice that your perfectionist thoughts will go away once you stop paying attention to them. Your thoughts aren’t true. They’re just thoughts.
You can listen to your perfectionist thoughts and then choose to believe something else. You can recognize your perfectionist behavior and then choose to act a different way. You have the power to do all of that.
TRUTH #3: GOOD IS GOOD ENOUGH
This is a difficult truth for perfectionists (even for a recovering perfectionist like me!) to accept. It feels like you’re lowering your standards. But this is flawed thinking. Perfection isn’t real. It’s a dream, an illusion. When you say ‘Only perfection is good enough’, you’re setting yourself up for failure because perfection is literally an unattainable goal.
Believing that good is good enough is not the same as lowering your standards. It’s setting a real standard.
Also, remember that you don’t have to be good at everything. Each time you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing, remind yourself that you’re great at a lot of things but that you don’t have to be good at everything.
RELATED POST: Finding the Balance Between Rest + Hustle
TRUTH #4: LETTING GO OF PERFECTIONISM DOESN’T MEAN LETTING GO OF YOUR STRENGTHS
My greatest fear was that, when I would scrub away the veneer of my perfectionism, I’d find nothing underneath.
I feared that perfectionism was my greatest strength and that without it I’d be nothing more than an empty shell.
At this point in my journey I can speak from experience and say that this fear is false. Underneath that veneer of perfectionism, you’ll find that you have lots of strengths and talents. You’re driven and tenacious and strong, or else you wouldn’t have been able to keep up with your perfectionism all these years.
You’ve been abusing these talents through your perfectionism. Imagine what would happen if you let go of your perfectionism and set those talents free.
TRUTH #5: LETTING GO OF PERFECTIONISM IS A GREAT WAY TO PRACTICE MINIMALISM
By now you’ve probably realized that perfectionism leaves you in a constant fearful and frazzled state: always thinking that who you are and what you do isn’t good enough and doing random things to avoid criticism or win approval.
Letting go of perfectionism means cutting away the noise until you’re left with the essential. When you turn down the hustle, you’ll find that who you are is all heart. Embracing imperfection is simplifying. It creates a life that’s in line with your values.
I hope that these truths – some of them hard to hear and some of them encouraging to hear – will motivate you to take the first steps in your journey of letting go of perfectionism and embracing imperfection. Know that I’ll be cheering you on along the way.
Wendy de Jong is a recovering perfectionist on a mission to help fellow soul-connected yet stressed-out creatives embrace their perfectly imperfect selves. She’s a book-oholic, a homemade pizza aficionado, and driving around in her bright red convertible car is her latest guilty pleasure. She took a break from a Scandal-binge on Netflix (gasp!) to create a FREE workbook to help you let go of your perfectionism. You can find her at Ditch Perfect, on Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest.
Do any of these truths about perfectionism speak to you? How does being a perfectionist impact your life? Let me know in the comments! x
Photo credit: Riccardo Bresciani / Used with permission