Have you ever used “perfectionist” to describe yourself, or to answer the all-too-often used interview question: “What is your biggest weakness?”
I used to think being a perfectionist was a strength. I thought it made me better because I strived so hard to be perfect and because I would stop at nothing to make sure something lived up to my rigorous standards.
But the more self-aware I became, the more I realized being a perfectionist can be a debilitating weakness. Perfectionism can be a cover-up for insecurity, a way to avoid trying new things, and a block to experiencing the changes you want in your life.
Perfection is an illusion
If you are a true perfectionist, you likely experience severe burnout from time to time. After all, you spend most of your waking hours striving to the utmost of your ability to be the best in every area: your career, your relationship, your social life.
The odd thing is, even if this behavior leaves you mentally, physically, and emotionally drained, you just can’t seem to quit it.
Deep inside, you long for the release, the rest, the peace of mind that comes with letting go.
But something inside of you just won’t allow you to have it. Instead you invest your time and energy into creating the illusion that you “have it all together.”
The true costs of perfectionism
Perfectionism is a game of constantly striving — to be the best, to be infallible, to be enough.
Perfectionists are born out of perfectly good intentions: to achieve excellence. And this behavior is reinforced when you earn rewards and recognition from parents, colleagues, and bosses.
But even if being a perfectionist does reap some (external) rewards, it can take a toll on your mental, physical, and emotional well-being. Do these symptoms sound familiar?
- Burnout, exhaustion, stress, and anxiety
- Indecision, procrastination, and constantly second-guessing yourself
- Getting down on yourself when things don’t turn out perfectly
- Feeling disconnected, alone, and not good enough
Treating your inner perfectionist
While having high standards and commitment to excellence is respectable, holding yourself (and others) to a standard of perfection is just, well, unattainable and insufferable.
Being a perfectionist isn’t just something that you can conquer or overcome. If you’ve struggled once, it’s likely to rear its ugly head again.
So if you can’t make your inner perfectionist go away forever, what can you do?
You can practice becoming self-aware, recognizing it when it appears. You can choose to let it go and surrender, every time it comes up for you.
Surrendering does not mean giving up. It means you trust things will work out for the best. You choose great or good enough over perfect. You accept yourself and your life in their current state, even if you want things to be different. You take care of yourself and practice self-compassion. You find ways to reward yourself for your efforts, no matter the outcome.
Read Part 2 of this series to learn 12 ways you can free yourself of perfectionism and embrace joy.
And if you’re ready to start making peace with perfectionism, download this free tool: 10 mantras to make peace with perfectionism.