Every time I say I am a perfectionist, I am not sure if it is something to boast about or feel ashamed of. To me, perfectionism is a trait that I see in both myself and many of the people I choose to surround myself with. It is having the goal of having everything systemically fall into place and the belief that somehow, if one works hard enough, that this goal is attainable. Unfortunately, it is not, and no matter how much I remind myself of its unattainability, I am still disappointed each time I do reach my goal of “perfection”.
Perfectionism is often clubbed with a myriad of other personality-traits and general feelings including anxiety, self-criticism, and even defensiveness. I write about these things today to bring awareness to the commonality and sometimes glorification of the perfectionist attitude. It’s not unusual for the public to praise perfectionism, after all, it’s the “perfectionist mentality” that can be what occasionally brings us close to whatever society deems to be “perfection”. Nonetheless, perfectionism is not something to praise. Perseverance, diligence, organization — these are all commendable traits, but perfectionism should be treated with the uttermost caution.
When we treat being perfect as something to strive for, we are promoting an unrealistic standard. The same is done in our society for a number of other concepts including productivity, which often ties into perfectionism. In America particularly, it is believed that if you are “pushing yourself”, spending less time taking breaks, then you are excelling. What is usually glossed over though, is the toll this takes on a person: physically, mentally, and emotionally. A perfectionist doesn’t necessarily have to be an over-productive person, but this “type A” personality as some call it, is something I am recognizing in countless individuals and even find it to be crawling back into my own head.
Perfectionism is many things. It is control and security and accomplishment. But, when I see my friend shaking because of a bad test score after taking on two varsity sports, heading almost every club imaginable and working an after-school job, I wish I could tell her to slow down and allow herself to find balance. At times I am envious of people like her, because I used to be just like that. I found pride in the fact that I would never make below a B or that I could overwork myself to the point of disintegration. Still, when students around me brag about the late hours they were up working or how they “always skip breakfast” it is a choice to find gratitude in the fact that I am past the point of feeling fulfilled through perfectionism and now can find gratification through other outlets that don’t include destructive productivity or self-depreciation. Now, I can look at how to help others.
If you find yourself struggling with perfectionism (in any area of life), I would like to remind you that finding peace with your flaws will come someday. What it takes, is recognizing that there is no reward for the person who reaches “perfection” because perfection simply does not exist. Even let’s say for a minute, that you were to reach a version of perfection, it’s most likely that this wouldn’t satisfy the intrinsic desire for control and acceptance you may be lacking in your life. It all boils down to taking care of yourself and knowing your own needs. Firstly, learn how to divide your energy and time so that you are not spreading yourself too thin. It’s going to be difficult to give up things you have held on to for so long, but at the end of the day, taking a few things off your plate will allow you to put more passion into whatever few items you choose to focus on. Ensure that you are spending at least a portion of your time rejuvenating and filling your own cup, however you choose to do so, and I promise you will become a much more stable and clear-headed person. In addition, it’s also essential to observe what you are placing importance on. I am incredibly guilty of stressing over the most minute details. There have been times when I have broke down over a test grade or journaled for pages and pages about one small comment a girl in class said to me. On the surface it can seem obsessive, but so many people worry about the same unimportant occurrences in life. Ask yourself: “will this matter in 5, 10, 15 years?”, and the answer will probably be a resounding “no”. If I don’t get an A in my history class this quarter, it’s not the end of the world. If I don’t have the energy to write a blog post one week, people will understand. If a boy I like doesn’t share the same feelings, there are plenty of others out there who will look at me the way I look at him. It’s cheesy, but life is too short to lose sleep over not being perfect.
This week, take this post as a reminder that you are doing your best. Even if you may not be meeting your own expectations, you will soon find that expectations are only there because you set them. Perfectionism is a very tricky subject because for some, it is so deeply-rooted in character that the thought of getting rid of the mentality can seem inconceivable. Personally, I look at ridding myself of perfectionism as a work in progress. Everyday you choose to sleep in a little later, close the books and replace them with some family time, eat that extra slice of chocolate cake, it should be seen as an accomplishment, a sign that you are giving yourself grace in an incredibly tough period. Today and everyday, stop viewing a “lack of willpower” or “prolonged break” as a weakness and I promise, that you will find yourself leading a more “perfect” life than one dictated by exhaustion and slander.
“Perfectionism becomes a badge of honor with you playing the part of the suffering hero.” -David D. Burns