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Are you a perfectionist?

Perfectionist.

How does this word make you feel? Is perfectionism something you strive for or something you choose to leave to others?

Personally, I used to take great pride in being a full blown perfectionist and if somebody referred to me as being a perfectionist I took it as a compliment. These days, it’s quite the opposite. I shudder and at times get offended if people call me a perfectionist because it’s something I’ve worked so hard on letting go of. While I like things done well and can be particular at times, I no longer strive for perfectionism (does it even exist?!).

From primary-school age, I would sit and do projects on poster paper over and over again until the heading was dare I say it ‘perfect’. Throughout all of my school years, I was the conscientious, high-achiever and I would often get picked on for being that way. This filtered through into my years at university when I’d proof-read assignments over and over again before I let anyone else read them and when I’d get a distinction and wish it was a high distinction. Don’t even get me started on group assignments! They weren’t something I loved to do back then. I’d always do more than my share and insist on doing the final edit because heaven forbid if there was an error.

The expectations I had on myself were not helpful and at times they were borderline obsessive. I’d worry about the tiniest of details that the majority of others didn’t even consider. It was exhausting and I was never content for long after I had achieved something because it was like I had to do even better the next time. It’s actually making me exhausted thinking about it! The reality is that I used to be a perfectionist in everything I did from a very young age and it stuck with me for a long time. I spent hours upon hours doing things that other people would take 5 minutes to do and I rarely lived in the moment. Others loved it because they knew if they asked me to do something, I wouldn’t stop until it was done and done well, ‘perfect’ even. It wasn’t a healthy way of habitually behaving or thinking but it wasn’t something that I could stop doing straight away.

I’ve learnt that being a perfectionist in one, many or all areas of your life, can come at a huge cost to you and those close to you. It can cause everything from overwhelm and exhaustion to negative self-talk, obsessive-compulsive tendencies, shame and frustration. It can make you feel like nothing you achieve is ever enough and you can project your unrealistic expectations onto others. It can leave you with little or no time to relax and it can even lead to procrastination as the fear of failure can make tasks easier to push to the side.

Once I started to realise the cost that being a perfectionist was having on my life, I consciously worked on letting go of striving for things that were unrealistic. Now that I look back, I think that being so meticulous was a lot about fear. Fear of making a ‘mistake’, fear of not looking like I cared, fear of not doing enough or fear of not saying to doing something the ‘right way’. I had to slowly veer away from my black and white and all or nothing approach and be comfortable with the grey area, the in-between.

Despite all of this self-awareness and learning, at times I still feel myself being held back working on things until I feel that they’re my best. Why? Because I believe in challenging myself, putting in my best effort and reaching and sharing my full potential. Some days, I get overwhelmed, say I wish I didn’t give a sh*t and have things sitting on my to-do list for longer than I’d like but guess what- that’s ok because I’m not perfect! When I feel this way, I try my best to focus on progress rather than perfection. I also remind myself that my self-worth isn’t determined by my ability to be great at every single thing that I do in life.

I have some questions for you to consider:

  • In what areas of your life do you push yourself to achieve unrealistic goals? (for example, work, relationships, health, study, organisation)

  • What cost is this having on you and those close to you? (for example, exhaustion, no time to socialise, constant frustration, controlling your relationships)

  • When do you let perfectionism hold you back?

If you feel like you’d like to chat more about your perfectionist tendencies, please reach out. You can book a complimentary Discovery Chat with me here.