I had to give up trying to be perfect.
For many years, perfectionism was my idol. I worshiped it with zeal, hoping it would deliver me from self-doubt. I imagined perfection in all its glory – a successful business, an immaculate home, skinny jeans sans muffin top, and kids who actually listen. My perfect self is funny and cute. No more saggy skin or stray hairs on my chin. My perfect self doesn’t spill coffee all over herself in front of clients. She always knows the right thing to say and she’s always on time. My perfect self doesn’t procrastinate by reading useless crap on Facebook. She’s zen-like — no more yelling, just calm and collected. And in my fantasy, everyone loves this perfect Sharon because, well, she’s perfect. (I failed to realize at the time that no one really likes perfect people.)
Like all false idols, perfectionism demands sacrifices.
I worked hard and pushed myself. I stayed up too late. I had stress headaches. I chastised myself for my failures (and yes, cheered at some successes too). In the end, I had to give up perfectionism because I sucked at it. Despite my best efforts, I wasn’t getting any closer to perfection. All I was getting was more self-loathing and doubt. Perfectionism turned out to be yet another way to find fault with myself. Perfectionism was like a magnifying glass for all my imperfections. It didn’t make me better at anything.
Perfectionism didn’t make other people like me and it certainly didn’t help me feel good about myself.
Perfectionism will devour your soul.
As I caved to perfectionism’s demands, I lost myself. I lost all that was unique about me. As I tried to be perfect, I was cramming myself into this perfect person mold that I’d dreamed up. But this isn’t who I am. It was a lie; an illusion; a false self that I was chasing after. I had become a soulless slave to perfectionism.
I couldn’t dream big. I couldn’t take risks. I couldn’t be creative. Perfectionism is about playing it safe. It’s about doing what you’re already good at, so you can be sure of success.
I could never relax. I was boring. My mantra was always: Work first; play later. Of course, later never came. There was always more work to do. Now I realize, much of it was work I created by re-doing, checking, re-writing. There was always one more load of laundry to fold. One more errand to run. Another email to reply to.
I became so diluted by perfectionism that there was nothing left. I no longer knew who I was or what I wanted. I felt like an imposter was living my life! Simply going through the motions is no way to live. And, so, I had to stop trying to be perfect and start trying to be me.
Being yourself can be a bit scary.
There’s nothing safe about being authentic. What if people don’t like me? What if I fail? I wasn’t good at accepting my mistakes or accepting criticism. I had worked really hard to avoid both of these things. I had to learn to accept myself, then like myself, and ultimately love myself.
I finally gave up trying to be perfect when I realized that not only are my imperfections totally normal, they’re actually relatable. People like “real” people. Guess what? I lose my temper sometimes. I let the clean laundry sit in a basket ’cause I hate folding it. I drink way too much Diet Coke. I have doubts. I offend people. I get anxious going to new places.
I will continue to improve upon my imperfect self, not with a goal of perfection or popularity. I want to be my best self, not a perfect person that I don’t even recognize. The best part is that now when I connect with someone, I know it’s real. They like me, not my fake, perfect, wanna-be self.
I stopped trying to be perfect and I hope you will, too.
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©Sharon Martin, LCSW. All rights reserved.
Photo by: Pranavian