The Perils of Being a Perfectionist
Almost everyone wish they could change something about themselves, or their lives at some point. It’s normal I supposed to not be completely satisfied. Some of us are perhaps more satisfied than others. But what happens when we’re only satisfied with perfection?
If I had to use one word to sum up my most prominent thought the last few weeks it would be: Perfectionism. In fact, I would say, if I had a stocker, it would be Perfectionism. It just won’t get away from me. I’ve been a self-proclaimed perfectionist for years, and frankly, I think I liked it; Perfectionism was a friend of sorts. But over the last year, I’ve become aware of just how annoying, and clinging, and rigid, and judgmental, and selfish, and cruel this friend really is. Perfectionism is a total Bitch! I don’t want Perfectionism in my life anymore. As I write this, all I can think is, “you’re in a unhealthy relationship with Perfectionism (you freak)”. But to let go? To lose this thing that has helped me get to where I am today? How can I? What will happen to me? What if my life falls apart?
This morning my therapist (yes, my therapist), says to me, “What if….you told yourself, I am perfect”? I sat and reflected on this thinking, “What is she talking about? I am most certainly NOT perfect. Pretending isn’t going to make it true. Is this a trick?”. Not sure how to respond I said, “Like, imperfectly perfect?” She replied, “Sure”, and knowing “sure” in the clinical world really means, “if that’s what you think…” I ran with it and blurted out, “well yeah, sure then, nobody is perfect”! Then, my therapist did what she does best: she sat…and stared…in silence (with the exception of me half laughing because these moments feel so awkward). I will give her credit though, this forced me to sit in my feelings, and sit in that last thought. And what an elementary thought it was: NOBODY.IS.PERFECT.
I know being perfect and doing things perfectly is not realistic. For one, the idea of “perfection” is entirely subjective. Further, what we think is perfect one day, may no be perfect the next. Perfectionists’ can always find something they could have done differently, -done better, making their goals unattainable. Yet, we still reach for perfection in everything we do. For me, this dogged quest of this verisimilitude almost always becomes my greatest obstacle to achieving it. I’m more worried about making sure every last thing is perfect rather than the task itself. I lose perspective on what the goal was in the first place. I essentially lose the value in the things I do because I’m too wrapped up in doing things perfectly.
The other day, I had a conversation with a mentor of mine about my frustrations with myself when I’m working with clients (I’m a counseling intern). I told her sometimes I’m unsure if I’m doing the right thing with my clients. I’m often not completely present because I keep thinking about whether or not I’m utilizing my clinical skills, and theoretical approach most effectively. Sometimes I wonder if I’m really connecting with my clients and helping them as much as I should be. I don’t want to cross my ethical bounds but I’m not sure what to do. Her response to me was, “Nina, you just need to be authentic. If you’re not authentic, it doesn’t matter what skills you use, because no one will believe you’re genuine. Take a deep breath (people say this to me all the time!), stop looking for every answer in a textbook. You’re never going to find a perfect answer. Just be true to yourself and everything else will fall into place”.
Well isn’t that the truth.
Stop trying to doing everything perfectly. Allow yourself the freedom to breathe in your life and in your work. Don’t try and be a model of what you think other people want you to be. Don’t lose perspective of what is important in your life because you’re worried about the “ideals” escaping you. You’re going to miss out on this beautiful life if you can’t open your eyes wide enough to see the whole picture.
Perfection is elusive; let it go.
Be genuine in your life.
Be who you are.