Perfection is a Key West sunset, a newborn baby and an A+ grade.
But there is no such thing as a perfect person with a perfect life. Even Mother Teresa has not yet been recognized as a saint by the Catholic Church. For her and all the rest of us, it is not ever humanly possible to be perfect. Not even some of the time.
Many people are ok with this reality. Me on the other hand, I’m a perfectionist.
Let me be clear, I don’t strive to be perfect. I don’t think anyone is a perfectionist on purpose. I believe perfectionists are people who strive to be awesome at everything they do 100 percent of the time, no matter what. That’s not to say non-perfectionists don’t try their best. What it means is when the outcome doesn’t go exactly as planned and things are subpar, perfectionists can let this make or break them while someone else may just see it as a ripple in the water.
Being a perfectionist has been so powerful at times that it fools me into believing I’ve ruined a perfectly good day. I have been known to say “I wish I could start my day over” if I didn’t accomplish all that I wanted to in an afternoon. As if going back and starting over would allow me to fix where I went wrong and try again. If only it were that much in our control! Once or twice I’ve even said “I wish I could just start my life over.” Yes, it can be that bad. That’s why I think being a perfectionist causes a significant amount of my stress.
In honor of Stress Awareness Day recognized earlier this week and the entire month being dedicated to awareness of stress/anxiety disorders, I’m sharing my observations about being a perfectionist and how it impacts my happiness and ability to see things for what they are. I hope this helps other self-confessed perfectionists open their eyes to how we put extra stress on ourselves and why we should not continue doing so.
To be a perfectionist is to…
- View yourself as never being good enough.
- Go by your own standards, disregarding what others tell you is good enough or what you know to be good enough.
- Put all of your happiness and merit into being viewed by others “perfectly”, as in never being wrong, never having a bad hair day, always getting everything done just right and always being everywhere you’re asked to be, even if all at the same time.
- Need to hear how you can improve after a job interview or a presentation. To look forward to annual reviews to hear someone else describe areas for you to work on. This justifies your gut feeling that you need to work harder and be better.
- Put these same high standards on others, often resulting in being disappointed in many people you interact with.
- Be a hamster on a wheel. Going and going and going. If you get off the wheel you’ve given up and are a failure. If you stay on and do amazingly well, you’ll still find something you did that was slightly wrong.
- Believe that anything less than perfect is shameful, unacceptable, a sign that you have very far to go still.
- Realize you are setting yourself up for failure but to keep raising the bar.
- Constantly have your eye on greener pastures, where the people over there must have mastered how to live perfectly.
- Always assume the worst and to think you’ve failed even after putting in your best effort.
Who wants to be a perfectionist after hearing this long list? Me neither. Overcoming perfectionism is accepting where you’re at, who you’re with, what you’re doing, what you’ve accomplished and living in the moment, not worrying about how you could have made it better or different. A big piece of it is not putting so much emphasis on how others view you. We’ll never truly know what others think of us. We can’t read their minds. And it’s none of our business what they think of us anyways. It will take me a while to work on this, but I’ll know I’m making progress when the backward steps I’m bound to take occasionally don’t make me feel like I’ve ruined a good day.
So to recap, sunsets can be perfect, but you can’t be. Don’t wait to hear that you are perfect or that you’ve done a perfect job or have the perfect life. No matter how hard you try, you just won’t hear it or feel it. Start accepting that having all the good stuff that falls below perfect is just as wonderful.