31 Aug Stop trying to be a perfectionist
Have you ever strived so hard to do everything to the absolute best of your ability yet still beat yourself up over the outcome? The constant need to perform at such high standards is the cause of many teenage stresses today but is it really necessary?
Should you stop trying to be a perfectionist?
Hello! As far being human is concerned being perfect is not possible. If it was there would be nothing to aim for, no big goals to set, no exciting adventures to experience and nothing to achieve in life. That would actually be quite scary and boring wouldn’t it?
How many times have you heard friends or family members using the ‘I am a perfectionist’ phrase? I’ve heard it so many times that I wrote a book about it a few years back called “Perfectshun – Permission to be Human”.
In my work as a trainer, coach and neurostrategist I see so many people beating themselves up, putting themselves down and feeling bad every day because they are trying to be perfect. They suffer from low self-esteem and feelings of not being good enough simply because they strive to be perfect. So yes, if this is you, it’s time to stop being a perfectionist.
You are an individual
As a teenager you will feel as though there is a lot at stake with the pressure to perform in exams, take on extra-curricular activities and live up to parental, sibling and teacher expectations. But if labelling yourself as a perfectionist is a source of your teenage stresses, then make a change today
Not being perfect is what makes you individual, unique and special. It’s the very thing that makes you, YOU. Stop beating yourself up about not being perfect and celebrate being human by embracing all of the things that make you, you.
Discover or rediscover what makes you amazing – only you can do your best … and being, trying and doing your best is more than good enough. Struggling to be perfect won’t make you be more loveable or more worthy, because you already are – in fact, you’re more than that, you’re magnificent.
“People throw away what they could have by insisting on perfection which they cannot have and looking for it in places that they can’t even find it.” Edith Shaffer.
I love this quote from Edith Shaffer, she’s a very smart lady, wouldn’t you agree?
What is perfect?
How do you define ‘perfect’? I had a few thoughts and if you’re an avid reader of The Spark to your Success blogs or listener of the podcast series then you’ll know I love to chew over a dictionary definition. Here’s what defines ‘perfect’ according to our scholars.
- Lacking nothing, essential to the whole, complete of its nature or kind
- Being without defect or blemish
- Completely correct or accurate, exact and precise
Hmmm … here’s my take … if you’re either spiritual or have religious beliefs then you might argue that perfect is possible, because in a human we are all perfect creations, but do you really think that part of you is missing, that you are lacking something inside? Well you wouldn’t be striving to attain perfection if you really believed that you were perfect already so I still maintain that perfect is not possible at least in our minds and beliefs.
As for being without defect or blemish, argh, I’m now thinking of the spot that appeared on my chin this morning! We have a mega industry that’s encouraged us to develop our thoughts about the way we look and some marketing tactics make us feel inadequate in some way in order to sell the illusion of perfect. How can you live up to perfectly airbrushed images in magazines, on Instagram and social media in general? You can’t, and to be honest, if you were to see those people in real life, you already know they won’t look like they do in print or on screen.
Now to being completely correct or accurate, exact and precise. That definition I can relate to. I’m better in some areas but I’m definitely not all of those things all of the time because this often comes down to attention to detail – and who doesn’t make the odd typo or error?
“The essence of being human is that one does not seek perfection.” George Orwell.
Is the lesson not in the mistake?
Think about this for a moment. Do you not learn something when a mistake is made? And is there not an element of comedy when you recollect the story of a blunder?
In your future career you might want to be a brain surgeon or a lawyer and, if you do, I would hope that you’d be completely correct or accurate, exact and precise. That job will demand it, but in general terms you aim to be correct. The challenge arises when an error occurs because you have two choices; (1) do you blow it out of proportion and be fearful of doing wrong in the future or; (2) admit that it’s a learning curve?
Hands up, fess up, we’ve all been there, but when you accept shortfalls and share your learnings with others you can move on. Some of the greatest learnings come from doing something wrong.
In summary, ‘perfection’ must be the quality or state of being perfect or complete – where nothing is lacking, everything is precise without blemish – in every way. Seriously, I feel stressed just saying that whole sentence. It feels overwhelming to even attempt to achieve that.
What does being a perfectionist mean?
I asked a few self-proclaimed perfectionists that I know and their comments amused me because it means different things to different people. Err … so how can that be perfect?!
“A perfectionist won’t accept the fact that there are few things in life that are perfect, there are always little flaws and so they become obsessed with the flaws, focusing on the 3% negative instead of the 97% positive. For instance, that might be a woman who makes herself unhappy because she’s 2lbs overweight and everybody else thinks she has a fabulous body. Or maybe the man who freaks out because there’s a tiny scratch on the door handle of his £80,000 car instead of being happy that he has an £80,000 car that’s fricking awesome! That kind of thing.”
“A perfectionist is someone who’s held hostage by the need to have something perfect before they move on. A kind of obsessive compulsive thing.”
I actually kind of get that definition.
“A perfectionist is someone who keeps tweaking something until it’s exactly right, you could say that I’m one, my assignments for my diploma are all written but they will not be submitted until I’ve tweaked them all so that they’re absolutely just right before they go in.”
If you’re a student can you relate to this?
“Well I was about to comment that perfectionism is an unhealthy obsession and then I realised that I think I suffer from it in two particular ways, one of them English grammar – I think in grammatical sentences, so maybe it’s a question of being perfectionistic with certain aspects of ones behaviour rather than being a perfectionist.”
“I would describe it as having to create something real that is exactly as you see it in your mind, anything else and it’s not perfect. Perfect is a nice word that conjures up the best that our imagination can create, if we believe something to be perfect then it is and so it shall be.”
“A perfectionist is a strong, determined and highly focused person who strives for excellence and gets disappointed when perfection is not met. I guess they’re going to be disappointed a lot of the time then because it’s going to be less than probably 3% that they’re perfect.”
You see, all so different.
Ditch perfectionism and remove some of your teenage stresses
Join me in ditching perfection and replace it with excellence. Aim for excellence in whatever you do because you can achieve excellence if you put in the effort. It doesn’t have to be perfect to be excellent and by thinking in this way you take away the pressure of impossibility and replace it with the excitement of having something you can actually celebrate when you get there. Doesn’t that feel better?
If everything had to be perfect, do you think I’d ever get a podcast out? Just getting it out there is so much more important.
Try this exercise
Grab your journal, a paper and pen or your chosen app.
- Write down your definition of perfect. What does it mean to you?
- What are your beliefs about being perfect – e.g. if you’re a detail person do you need to write everything down?
- What are your rules for being perfect? E.g. always take your time, be on time, be in control of everything.
- How does trying to be perfect make you feel? E.g. stressed, under pressure – are people are waiting for you to do something wrong and judge you?
- If you were to replace the word ‘perfect’ with ‘excellent’, how would that be different for you?
Once you have thought about these questions, run through 1-4 again but replace ‘perfect’ with ‘excellent’. Can you see the difference? What makes you feel better?
Perfection is just a deception of your ego
You have the ability to think, to feel (unless you’ve put a lid of your emotions like I did for a while and let me tell you, that’s a really bad thing to do) and to create. You start things in your imagination and make them a reality by taking action – that’s amazing!
You can communicate with others easily and effortlessly in the words you speak, the words you write, the pictures you draw, and even in your body language you’re an awesome communicator. You have the most incredible ability to dream, so use your imagination and create other realities when you need to. This is how amazing you are – you breathe without even thinking about it, you keep your heart beating without focusing on it and produce chemicals that you need in your body just when you need them at the highest quality in the right amount. You have the ability to inspire others through your thoughts, your words and your actions, need I say any more? The ego controls the perfectionist and requires recognition, you don’t need to be perfect to be unique, special, different and incredible in your own right, you’re those things already.
“Perfectionism is self-abuse of the highest order.” Anne Wilson Schaef.
Choose the life you want to lead
My invitation to you is to stop every now and again when you find you are putting yourself down and you’re not feeling enough and ask yourself if it’s because you’re trying to be perfect.
Have a little chuckle to yourself and think ‘no wonder I feel bad, I’m trying to be something that’s not possible!’ Please do connect with me and share your thoughts on social media. We all have a run in with the perfect devil every so often, so I’d love to know what’s worked for you!
Stay unique, stop trying to be a perfectionist to help ease teenage stresses and see your learnings as a way to embrace life.