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Confessions of a Recovering Perfectionist

Growing up, I always felt pressured to be perfect. From my family, friends, society and especially myself. In order to be happy, I associated that with how accomplished I was academically, physically, socially and even spiritually. Whenever I felt short of not reaching a goal or someone else pointed out a shortcoming of mine, I would beat myself over it. I would be so disappointed if I couldn’t always present myself in the best way possible. Not only was it important for me to have this super awesome life that I dreamed about, but it was important for me to allow people to think that as well. I didn’t know that there was a word for was I was battling. It’s called perfectionism. It’s a refusal to accept any standard short of perfection. Until one day, that all changed.

Releasing the Internal Pressure

I think the first indicator that I was struggling with perfectionism was my second year in college. I just joined our campus activities board as an event planner. During the summer before our tenure started, we had training to prepare us fo the school year. There was a conflict with one of our training times and a final for one of my summer courses. Instead of devoting all of my energy to my academics, I thought it was fair to try to split my obligations. I rushed through the final trying to be on time training. At that stage in my life, it was more important for others to believe I was a great student leader instead of a great student. I got a “B” on the final but I know if I took advantage of my time, I could’ve received an “A”.

In hindsight, I realized that no one in the organization pressured me about my final except me. I unconsciously gave myself permission to make more sacrifices for my academic career than I would have liked with that summer being a perfect example. It’s so important that we find what triggers that perfectionism inside us and give ourselves permission to release that pressure. We know that perfection is unattainable so we need the space in our brains focusing on achieving realistic goals. The majority of the time, we can be our own worst enemy and we have to put in the work to correct this.

Giving Grace to Others

I didn’t only have unrealistic goals for myself, but for others as well. The same bad energy I had internally, I gave to others. I was often perceived as negative when I couldn’t get my expectations met. I had no idea in setting expectations for others, I didn’t even consider the person’s limitations. I didn’t consider that everyone is not an over-achiever like me. To go above and beyond is first nature for me but not for everyone else. I had to learn how to give others grace.

Giving grace doesn’t mean that you allow others to treat you any kind of way or you have to minimize your expectations. What it means is that you’re setting attainable expectations and invested in helping others met your expectations. This could mean you rearrange deadlines, having extra meetings to coach and communicate, or just getting off the necks of someone to let them get work done. When I got my first job after graduating, I put this lesson into practice. I work with high school students where my patience is tested almost every day. In order to get the best from my students, not only did I become more than I normally would, I invested in them learning how to meet my expectations instead of berating them when they didn’t. I soon started to apply this to the adults I worked with. This gave me such a better rapport with my colleagues and superiors. I was also able to get more grace when I fell short of meeting expectations because I gave it out to others.

Reclaiming My Time

At the end of the day, perfectionism has to deal a lot with our mental health. Part of the commitment I made to value my mental health more is to do things that make me happy. As cheesy as it sounds, it really does help. For the past couple of years, I started painting on canvases. Creating art helped me with my battle because art is subjective and can never be “perfect.” My friends and peers love the pieces I can make and that is all the validation I need. They don’t even notice some of the mistakes that were made into the piece.

Reclaim your time and find projects that you can be passionate about that don’t require setting expectations. It can literally be anything that makes you happy or just smile. I advise it be something that you don’t have a ton of experience in. I literally started painting because it was an activity that didn’t require a lot of money. For you, it can be anything.

Now that I noticed this is a struggle for me, I actively make decisions every day to keep me grounded. Here are some signs that make indicate you’re a perfectionist.

  • You fixate on your shortcomings.

  • You can’t receive compliments.

  • You rarely delegate tasks as you fear others may disappoint.

  • You have a hard time starting/completing projects because of the internalized pressure.

Need some more help figuring it out? Here’s a self-assessment to help you out. Click here. Let me know if this helps.

What are some things that had to be perfect when you were younger?


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