I am a perfectionist.
I am sad, I am frustrated, I am stressed out, and these days, I find it hard to find any kind of work rewarding.
These days, I fight tiring, losing battles with myself in my head. In true perfectionist form, I try to appear like things are under control when inside, I believe I am not good enough in nearly every way.
I am not clever enough, not creative enough, not capable enough. I don’t write well enough. I’m not growing fast enough. I suck at my job. You could grab someone off the street to take my place and he’d easily do a better job than me. Literally anyone else is better than me. What the f*ck am I good for.
It’s depressing, being in my head.
I look at other people and I wonder how it is they can take things so easily. Why can’t I be as happy, as free, as light as everyone else is? Oh my god, why can’t I just chill?
Now, I’m well aware that this isn’t good for me.
I tell myself I need healthier thoughts. I tell myself I need to get comfortable with the idea of making mistakes, that there is so much to be gained from making mistakes. I tell myself perfection is a lofty, lofty ideal that will only drive me crazy.
And still, it is only a matter of time before I fall back into old ways, back into the cold arms of my punishing need for perfect.
The pursuit of perfection
Perfect sounds wonderful. We talk about the perfect life, the perfect home, the perfect family. Perfect sounds perfect.
Perfect sounds like the ultimate goal to aspire towards, the gold standard—but it isn’t.
What I’ve realized is perfection is a curse in blessing’s clothing. It’s not a reasonable goal. It should not be the gold standard. What it is, instead, is a path towards self-destruction.
See, perfectionists are their worst critics. Before you tell them their work could be better, they’ve already told it to themselves, in much harsher ways.
Perfectionists are well-acquainted with the words “stupid”, “useless”, “dumb”—they regularly use them on themselves; they feel these things every day.
The thing about perfectionism is we set ourselves up to fail at every turn with our excessive standards, and by these standards, we diminish ourselves every day.
In my experience, the longer I’ve worked, the harder I’ve strived for perfection, the more incapable it’s left me feeling. Things that started out fun, things that I started with love become ruined once touched by my toxic perfection.
At its root, perfectionism is about fear.
Perfectionism is what happens when you’re deathly afraid to fail, when you’re terrified of criticism. Perfectionism is when you strive for excellence not because we want to, but because you simply can’t not.
We can’t fail because it’ll reflect on who we are, on what we are capable of. We can’t fail because in our minds, we are only as valued or as worthy as we are successful. Beyond the practical things that are at stake, like our job or our reputation with our higher ups, our sense of self-worth hangs in the balance.
I’m a perfectionist, and maybe this is who I will be for a very, very long time.
But I’m trying to teach myself a couple of things:
First, that perfect is good but not necessary. Not everything has to be perfect. The occasional typo in an email is allowed. One slight misstep will not be the end of my career. I am allowed to produce sh*t work, if my best truly is sh*t. Sometimes, trying is enough—it’s surely better than not trying at all.
Second, trust yourself anyway. When perfectionism makes a home in your head, self-esteem is quickly kicked to the curb. And with an injured self-esteem, you can lose trust in yourself, even if you have good ideas, are a great problem solver, or actually have many valuable qualities to boast of. Many perfectionists are doing just fine in reality, and it only feels like things are going to sh*t in our clouded heads.
Third, I’m teaching myself to not be defined by my work. Surely there is more to us than the work we do and how good we are at it? In life, we play so many roles: the child, the partner, the friend, the colleague. There are 101 ways to play those roles well, to be a truly valuable human being. So, I’m going to define a person’s worth my way, and I’m going to find a way to love myself, apart from the work I do and how successful I am at it. I am much more than how good a worker I am.