We live in a culture of perfectionism. Open any women’s magazine or watch any TV program and you can’t escape the emphasis we put on looking, behaving, and being perfect.
We’re an intolerant bunch that is quick to judge – ourselves and others – and notice when we don’t measure up to the unspoken measuring sticks of beauty, success, talent, and intellect.
We put the emphasis on doing rather than being, which is where perfectionism likes to live. It lives in the mindset that we have to achieve in order to be worth anything. Perfectionism tells us that we could have done better, we should have done better, there’s always more to achieve. Perfectionism says, “rest is lazy” and “mistakes are failures.”
You don’t have to swallow what perfectionism is dishing out. Here are three ways to reject perfectionism and embrace the real you.
Done is better than perfect
I can’t tell you how many students, writers, and executives I’ve met who don’t complete things because they can’t make them perfect.
Essays go unwritten, math homework isn’t turned it, and reports aren’t submitted. People can’t bear to turn in imperfect work for fear of criticism or rejection. The best way to avoid criticism and rejection is to simply do nothing.
Obviously, there are negative consequences for you when you don’t turn in your work or turn it in late. But your perfectionism affects other people negatively as well. Your customers, your family, or your teammates depend on your work. When you get stuck in perfectionism you deprive the rest of the world of your gifts.
For example, I can choose to publish this imperfect blog post or I could wait until it’s perfect, in which case you’d get maybe one or two posts a year instead of one or two posts a week. Which would you prefer? I think you’d like more. And I think you can forgive me for my typos and poor sentence structure. Try forgiving yourself for such imperfections and mistakes, and others will probably do the same.
Do it even if others hate it
You can’t escape criticism. Believe me, I tried.
As I’ve written many times, I used to be highly criticism avoidant. If I thought there was even the slightest chance of failure or criticism, I wouldn’t do it.
Playing sports where I might embarrass myself – nope. Reading out loud when I might misspeak – nope. Applying for a job I might not get – nope. You get the picture; pretty soon I wasn’t doing anything unless I was already certain I excelled at it. This is called playing it safe…and boring…and small. It’s a waste of your time and a waste of your talents and a waste of your body and mind and spirit.
Life really is too short to play it safe all the time. Guess what people really don’t care or remember if I struck out every single time we played softball in 10th grade PE. Do you remember the typo I made last year?
Let go of the outcome
Do things for the experience, for the process – not for the success, or the money, or the praise, or the accolades.
Do things because you love them. Or do them because you want to try — because you’re curious and you like to learn new things. Do things because you’re alive. Living things are growing, changing, maturing, learning, experimenting, and struggling.
You’re not perfect. There’s no need to be. Life’s messy and complicated and full of surprises. You can’t always pretty it up and make it look perfect. Life’s hard and beautiful and painful and joyful. It’s full of contradictions. Don’t concern yourself with the outcome – with whether it’s a success or a failure. The outcome is not a reflection of your worth as a person.
You’ve heard the saying “life is a journey, not a destination.” Well, that’s what I’m talking about. Enjoy the bumps along the way. Don’t just do your math homework so your parents will be proud of you; don’t just turn in your reports so you can get a promotion. And please don’t go on a diet so someone will love you. Enjoy the road. Hell, maybe even take a few detours just for the fun of it.
You can learn more about overcoming perfectionism using the practical exercises in my self-help book: The CBT Workbook for Perfectionism: Evidence-Based Skills to Help You Let Go of Self-Criticism, Build Self-Esteem and Find Balance.
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©2016 Sharon, Martin, LCSW. All rights reserved.