i don't want to be a perfectionist anymore

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I used to think being a perfectionist was one of the most commendable personality traits. It was one of my favorite compliments. 

“You’re such a perfectionist!”

That would make me feel great. I would gravitate towards people who had extremely high standards because I felt they could understand the core of who I was. They were the only kinds of people I could trust. 

However I started noticing that identifying myself this way and then acting out this identity hurt me more than it helped me. I’m talking about severe perfectionism here. Not just, “I want to do my best!”

It started to wear me down, and so below are the reasons I stopped idealizing the trait. 

It’s Never Enough

Anyone who is a perfectionist experiences this. All your efforts are never enough; the road to perfection never ends, and some may say this is a good thing. It can be very motivating. 

But you can also get extremely obsessed with perfection and realize you’ll never get there and the thought of that drives you insane and into a spiral of self doubt and criticism. Which leads me to…

You’re Critical of Yourself

You’re never enough. When something in your life isn’t enough or isn’t working out like you thought, it can often come back on you.

“Maybe this a reflection of me? Am I not enough? Is it my fault?”

These thoughts lead to terrible self-esteem. Not only do you think you’re letting others down, but you’re constantly remembering that you’re letting your own self down. Thinking this day after day, month after month, year after year, will really mess with your head.

You’re Critical of Others

You start projecting your perfectionism on other people around you. You already berate yourself for falling short, so what’s stopping you from harshly judging others? The ones you love never measure up to your high standards, and you become continually disappointed with them. This creates a rift in your relationship and you are unable to enjoy the good things about them.

It Wastes Your Time

Trying to be a perfectionist was wasting my time on worry and insecurities. I would (and often still do) get into an insecurity spiral.

It’s a time-suck. You’re spending time and energy worried, when you could be spending time and energy problem-solving and doing.

It’s Paralyzing 

You’re paralyzed by the fear of not being perfect. Even as I write this, I’m so paralyzed by perfectionism. “Is this good enough? Do I write well? Is this making sense? Will someone chime in with a random and annoying comment on how I’m wrong?”

And still…

“Are these questions good enough to demonstrate how stuck in the perfectionist loop I am?!”

Being a perfectionist stops you from getting out there and doing your thing, whatever it is. I need Nike to repeat their slogan to me every 15 minutes.

I come up with a lot of ideas I’m excited about - things I want to write, businesses I want to create, photo shoots I want to do, places I want to go, art I want to make, food I’d like to cook - And over and over again, I’m paralyzed by the fear of that thing not being perfect.

“What’s the point of starting it? It won’t be perfect.” 

Yes, it won’t be perfect. This is too true because no one is perfect when they are first starting a new endeavor. But when you hold yourself to such high standards, you believe you’re the exception and therefore you, of all people, should know how to make it perfect.

“Try B Minus Work”

Some of the best advice I ever heard about perfectionism was from a life coach. She told me, “Try doing B- work.”

I was like, “Lolwut? Excuse me? You want me to do average work?”

She gave me an example: She tried out this theory of giving a B- effort while she was creating her new website. She didn’t spend too much time worrying about the look and feel of it, but made sure it had a sense of organization and was useful. That way if someone told her they didn’t like it, she didn’t care because she hadn’t poured her heart and soul into it. And if someone said they loved it, it was a bonus because she hadn’t tried to make anyone love it. 

I understood the point. If you are too paralyzed by perfection, you might not get your site up and running, or your article published, or your podcast started. 

There are things you can give an A+ effort, she explained, but there are many things we give too much attention to when they deserve an average amount of attention. This was a good way for me to reframe the way I think about new projects. I could be less paralyzed using this attitude. 

No one had ever told me that being less than perfect was ever beneficial. It’s definitely beneficial if it gets you moving forward. 

Baby steps

There are good things about wanting to do well and be your best. But you don’t have to be perfect. If you take it to the extreme, it can hurt your chances of experiencing life to the fullest. At least this is what it did to me. Letting go of super high standards and truly settling into the phrase “go with the flow” has been a game-changer for me. I really hurt myself being too rigid in my goals and expectations. This doesn’t mean I stopped “dreaming big” or wanting to pursue huge goals; on the contrary. I believe in myself and my abilities more now. And I see that taking one small, imperfect step forward makes all the difference compared to being stuck forever worried about making the perfect leap.

I’m not “perfect” at this (ha!), but I am still leaning into it and changing every day. 

I’ll probably never stop giving my all and my best. But I would love to slowly start giving myself and others a break, and slowly start loving and accepting things that are not entirely perfect.