5 Lessons from A Recovering Perfectionist
Updated: Jul 15, 2021
Hi, my name is Karen, and I’m a recovering perfectionist.
(This is where you say “Hi, Karen” because we’re sitting around in a circle for our fictional support group—Perfectionists Anonymous.)
I was almost 30 years old when I finally realized the insurmountable stress I was putting on myself trying to be perfect and to do things perfectly—and also how unattainable that is.
In all my interactions with perfectionists—friends, family, clients, colleagues, and my observations from being a lifelong people watcher—I realized everyone strives for perfection for their own unique reason. Some do it because they have a catastrophic fear of failure; others are paralyzed by the thought of making a mistake. And then there are those who are like me; we’re trying to be perfect and do things “right” to protect ourselves, and those we love, from any unnecessary pain or suffering.
But the truth is, any way you cut it, “being perfect” is impossible and unnecessary.
The biggest reality check for me was when my husband suddenly died, and I experienced a colossal gut punch that altered my view on life—forever.
No matter how much you try to do things right, or be perfect, or plan every imaginable detail—most of life is out of your control.
BUT!... (as we say in my family, “That’s a big BUT…”)
This doesn’t mean you can’t secure your own happiness or inner peace or success.
On the contrary, ol’ chap!!
Once you break free from perfectionism-prison, your heart, mind, and soul are wide open to embrace the fullness of life.
I believe perfectionism limits potential.
Trying to be perfect also stunts your growth.
And not to mention, perfectionism sucks the fun out of life.
So if you’re at a point in life where you realizeI can’t do it “all” all of the time, I don’t need to be perfect, I’m burning myself out, or any number of self-actualization statements that could follow … then let me just reassure you, you’re in the right place to step forward into the fullness of YOU and to experience the fullness of life. Feel free to leave your perfection at the door.
From one recovering perfectionist to another, I want to share a couple of lessons I’ve learned that’ll hopefully help you on your journey…
Life isn’t perfect—it’s messy.
Who in the heck sold us the dream that life would be perfect? Was it whispered to us as babies? Did someone spike our Kool-Aid at a young age? Regardless of when we fixed our minds on this myth, everyone eventually learns the harsh reality that life is messy and hard—the complete opposite of perfect. It’s full of challenges, heartbreaks, unfair circumstances, and lots of unpredictable pitfalls. If I know one thing for sure, it’s that life is better when you accept this instead of trying to resist it. Instead of feeling utterly paralyzed when something goes wrong, you may feel sad, angry, disappointed, but you bounce back with courage and acceptance. Knowing that sometimes sh!t happens.
Perfection doesn’t equal success.
Perfectionism is an unrelenting standard that can never be met, which is why it should be banned from your work standards. Replace “perfect” with “excellence” as the standard, and “effort” is next in line.
The most successful people in the world did not get to where they are because their work history is unblemished or they themselves are flawless. Michael Jordan was told he was too small and was cut before becoming the MVP we know him to be. Steven Speilberg is dyslexic, but that didn’t stop him from becoming the award-winning director he is today. Viola Davis was extremely poor growing up and had low self-esteem most of her life, but that didn’t get in the way of her fulfilling her dreams of becoming an actor. Add to that a long list of awards and nominations for her excellent work. My point is, success is a product of many things—preparation, faith, sound decisions, determination, big risks, learning from mistakes, agility, patience—but perfection is NOT one of them.
People aren’t perfect.
No one can possibly be perfect; that is what makes us human. You aren’t perfect. Your spouse isn’t perfect. Your boss isn’t perfect. Your kids aren’t perfect. Your friends aren’t perfect. You get the picture.
Not only is it unhealthy to put so much pressure on yourself, it’s unfair to project those immaculate expectations onto others. Our imperfections are what make us unique and special in this world. Now, that doesn’t give you or anyone else permission to be a jerk; it gives you the space to think differently, create differently, and contribute to this world in ways that other people can’t replicate. The goal for humans isn’t to be perfect, it’s to be better—day by day, moment by moment.
Perfection limits your potential.
Has anyone else noticed how exhausting striving for perfection really is? It’s a vicious cycle that wastes your precious time, and it can also be mentally paralyzing. When your mind is fixed on what “perfect” looks like, it limits your imagination and stifles creativity. I’m just saying, some of the best results come from out-of-the-box thinking.
No one is you, and that is your superpower, my dear! Don’t let stale status-quo perfectionism get in the way of the abundant life that’s waiting for you on the other side. Remember, life can be messy, especially when you step out of your comfort zone, but that’s part of the adventure.
Perfection stunts growth.
Oftentimes being a perfectionist holds you back from doing something you’ve never done because the fear that you will be less than perfect at it blocks you from taking action. However, that’s the fun of trying something new! You get to learn and grow and enjoy fresh experiences.
Staying stagnant is not healthy for anyone. Growth keeps your mind engaged, your heart excited, and your soul energized for more of what life has to offer. If you really want to shed your old perfectionist ways, embrace mistakes and make time to learn something new on a regular basis.
Letting go of the attempt to be perfect takes a while; it’s not an overnight shift. But I bet when you think about the people you love and respect most in your life, you’ll realize that not one of them is perfect.
I know I did.
The people I love being around the most (and also the folks I enjoy following on social media) are those who accept themselves as they are, who are comfortable in their own skin, and who love people for who they are, too.
Over the years, I made it a point to deprogram myself and intentionally embrace imperfections. And ya know what I discovered? Much to my surprise, the more I allowed myself to just be me (fully), the happier, more at peace, and more content I became.
Take it from a recovering perfectionist who works in the field of personal development, the simple truth is, none of us is—or can even hope to be—perfect. We may pursue mastery, excellence, improvement, and be challenged by the quest, but striving for perfection will only lead to distress and unfulfillment.
The only thing we can ever really hope to be is imperfect, and still __________ (you fill in the blank).
For me, I am…
imperfect, and still successful;
imperfect, and still a great mom;
imperfect, and still happy;
imperfect, and still growing;
imperfect, and still loved;
imperfect, and still at peace...
The list goes on and on.
I’m sure yours will, too. Leave your “imperfect, and still...” statement in the comments below…