I’m a recovering perfectionist. I say “recovering” because overcoming perfectionism is a huge undertaking that is ongoing and probably lifelong. I’m a work in progress, and I’m making my peace with that.
However, it’s worth noting that even though I’ve come a long way in letting go of perfectionism, the perfectionist in me still emerges every day. Recovering from perfectionism is like playing whack-a-mole with yourself. You’ve got to beat that perfectionist into submission!
A lot of people don’t realize what being a perfectionist looks like in day-to-day life, or how difficult overcoming perfectionism can be. Here are a few of my confessions as a recovering perfectionist.
1. I’ve been a perfectionist for as long as I can remember.
As a child, I didn’t play sports because I wasn’t very good at them. I opted out of accelerated / advanced courses in school because the challenge (and therefore potential of failing) terrified me. I was also the weirdo at the lunch table who had to line up my M&M’s by color (in order of the color spectrum) before eating them.
Basically, if I wasn’t naturally good at something, or if I didn’t think I could do it perfectly, I didn’t do it at all. And being obscenely organized? Well, that was a coping mechanism to create a false sense of order and control to make up for the other areas of my life that were imperfect.
2. Sometimes I wonder if I’d still be a perfectionist if I’d grown up differently.
“You’re so smart.”
“You’re so talented.”
“Wow, you’re amazing!”
Have you ever heard things like this before?
Not to toot my own horn, but I heard these kinds of things all the time growing up. At first, I enjoyed the recognition, but after a while, these kinds of comments came to terrify me. I worried that I’d mess up and people wouldn’t think I was smart, talented, or amazing.
I can trace back the roots of my perfectionism, and also my anxiety, to these kinds of remarks. My family, friends, and teachers probably meant well, but they didn’t realize how they were putting me up on a pedestal and creating an image for me that I just couldn’t live up to.
3. Overcoming perfectionism takes conscious effort.
Sometimes I purposely do stuff wrong just to try and break the perfectionist in me. For example, when I put my clothes away, I hang them up in the closet randomly instead of by color and sleeve length, which is really how they should be arranged. Also, I try to throw the DVD back on the shelf, instead of alphabetizing it by title, even though it’s easier to find things if they’re alphabetized.
Baby steps, right?
4. My perfectionism still catches me off guard.
Even though I’ve made a lot of progress, as a [recovering] perfectionist, I do some really stupid, petty things. Sometimes my perfectionism manifests itself with little things, like rearranging the dishes in the dishwasher so that all of the same types of cups are in a row (apparently, it’s not enough that they’re going to get clean, they have to look pretty too).
Other times, my perfectionistic nature freaks out when I realize that I’ve made a mistake, even if it’s not a big deal or doesn’t affect anyone. For example, a few weeks ago I couldn’t sleep because I paid the wrong amount on a credit card that I always pay off in full every month. It was only a small amount of interest, and my husband wasn’t even upset about it, but I was devastated.
Even small mistakes are a glaring reminder that hey, I’m not perfect!
5. I still feel the need to do #allthethings
In my last post, I talked about how to say no.
The truth is, I still have a hard time saying no. I also find it difficult to relax because my mind is constantly thinking about all of the things I “should” be doing.
Overcoming perfectionism is tough enough as it is. It’s especially tough when you’ve had a busy, overwhelming week and you realize that you can’t do #allthethings. It’s physically impossible, and it’s mentally exhausting trying anyway. Even so, this realization can be a real self-esteem downer.
I guess I should ask myself why I think I’m responsible for everything? Why do I still feel the need to perform and be perfect after years of battling perfectionism?
Perfectionism = Fear
I put the above concepts in quotes because they all have something in common…they’re all LIES.
They’re not even true!
When we stop and take a step back from our perfectionism to analyze things, we find these are just things we’ve told ourselves. We speak fear, failure, not being good enough, etc. to keep ourselves down, to keep doing what we’ve always done. Being a perfectionist becomes an excuse not to try new things, dream big, or achieve greatness.
Because when really dig deep, our greatest fear isn’t that we’re not perfect (because perfectionism doesn’t exist), but that we’re greater than we ever imagined.
"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure." –Marianne Williamson
So how about you? How have you struggled with perfectionism? How are you breaking the habit?
Nicole Starbuck is an intuitive business coach helping spiritual women entrepreneurs stress less, achieve more, and build 6-figure online empires online without the burnout. Click here to learn more.