I can relate. I spent much of my life through early adulthood gripping white knuckled to these values. What were supposed to be the glory days of college carried a lot of extraneous stress and pressure to perform well academically at the expense of enjoying the experience as a whole.
I found that there is a cost to the pursuit of perfection. Holding yourself to the highest standards all the time creates a great amount of stress and anxiety. Perfectionism can quickly lead to self criticism and difficulties in accepting and valuing yourself just for being you.
It can also lead to difficulties in relationships. Ever notice that you hold those you care most about to exceptionally high standards as well? Invariably we become critical of them when they can’t meet the standard- just as we criticize ourselves for the same reason. It’s also a barrier to accepting others just as they are.
Perfectionism carries with it a sense of being extraordinarily good at something, or at things in general, and on a deeper level a need to be outstanding. So what if you weren’t so extraordinary? What if you were just ordinary? Sounds unappealing at first, right? We want to be special, to be good, to be the best we can be. Well, I urge you to consider the possibility of accepting some level of “just ordinary” as human – at least sometimes. I truly believe you will still be special and good to those who love and care about you. You will still be your best self. You’ll just beat yourself up a little less and feel less pressure to perform perfectly. And you will be freed up to find more connection to your inherent worth.
If you have perfectionistic tendencies, chances are, your output, your product, your effort and your commitment won’t look that much different if you stop striving so hard to get things just right. In fact, it’s possible that how you perform improves because it’s not weighed down by the stress inherent in the perfection standard. Most importantly, your acceptance of yourself and those you love grows and you take on a more positive, relaxed outlook.
It’s good and important to be motivated, to do well, and to try your best, but sometimes letting go of unattainable standards and unrealistic expectations can allow us to feel more human and less stressed. It can bring a sense of relief in knowing that failure or less than perfect outcomes is part of life and learning.
And you can handle it, which in the end, is arguably even more noble than being an unachievable perfect.
Leah Ottow, LCSW is a therapist at New Approaches, where we promote the idea that emotional health is essential for overall wellbeing. She believes that early identification of problems allows clients to be proactive and address issues before they become more serious.
Leah’s areas of interest include anxiety, life transitions, work issues, relationships, perfectionism, identity, depression, mindfulness, trauma, stress management, loneliness, and pregnancy/postpartum.
Feel free to email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 207-553-2260 ext. 2 for more information.