During a jovial conversation last week, I heard myself say, “If I don’t do it perfectly, I’m garbage.” My friend had a look in her eye as if she didn’t know whether to be concerned or amused. I wasn’t sure how I felt either. I know I hold myself to unrealistic standards but hadn’t before realized I thought of myself as garbage when I prove myself human.
Yes, the nefarious beast of perfectionism had reared its ugly head. It’s the idea that we should look and be flawless — the unachievable standard of precise and impeccable performance accompanied by constant self-criticism without tolerance for being human. Demanding perfection hijacks our power by focusing on the inevitability of shortcomings and failure.
Growth and improvement, on the other hand, allow us to strive for our best selves without being weighed down by “never good enough.” Such strivings are necessary and noble to learn new skills and pursue ambitions. Growth and improvement unlock our power by focusing on the potential for success.
Perfect Does Not Exist
I have excellent news! No one is perfect. Not a single human being on this earth goes a day without making a mistake. Station, vocation, or opportunities make no difference. There is no secret map to the Meadow of Perfection where little Perfects graze on “we-get-it-right-the-first-time-every-times.”
We don’t need to invest our energy in looking for this mystical creature with its celestial powers, as alluring as it may be. We can – gradually and with help – learn to look for what does exist, opportunities to learn, grow, and change.
If I Cannot Be the Best
How many times have you avoided a social activity or halted the pursuit of ambitions because you wanted to be the best right away? I have many times. Think about this: we can have expectations so high we want to outperform people who have been practicing the same thing for years. Nevermind if we have never heard of or practiced the skill before.
Logically we understand learning and development take time. The artist who can draw beautiful hands wasn’t born knowing how to draw. No, they have notebooks filled with their first bumbled attempts, the in-between stages, and finally the graceful and picturesque hands other people admire. And still, we give up before we start because we don’t want anyone to see the process – the process everyone goes through.
Striving to Be the Best You
Forgive me if I sound hypocritical in my writings on perfectionism since I fight against the tendency. I have more healing and growth to do before I can accept my best efforts. Nonetheless, I have learned one lesson that I want to share;
Mistakes are learning experiences, not signs of inadequacy. Think of a baby learning to walk. They fall, bonk their head, and make innumerable attempts to walk before they make a successful venture from the car to the park. Imagine if they tried once, failed, and never tried again. They would be stuck living far, far beneath their potential. The same principle applies to us perfectionists. When we avoid doing things or criticize ourselves for every mistake, we are impeding our ability to grow and learn.
Get out there. Make mistakes. Try your best. If it doesn’t work, try again.
I’ll keep trying, too.