I hear it announced all the time. It’s slightly boasting, but safely under the guise of being an admission: I am a perfectionist.
Listen up, self-professed perfectionist. I say this out of love and concern: You need to reconsider your stance. It will not go well for you. You need to wake up or you’ll be a bitter, miserable person in no time at all.
This is a problem, not a merit-badge in the making.
I loathe perfectionism because it’s an impossible task. A fool’s errand. But it looks really cute and appealing. You get a lot of praise for it. (That’s why it’s so insidious).
But it will destroy your life.
Perfectionism is nothing more than a cloak of fear hellbent on sucking the joy out of your life.
Yes, fear. It’s all about this one promise: If you are perfect, then you are worthy. If everything about you, your life, your children, your spouse, your house, are perfect, then you can be okay.
It’s fundamentally fear-based thinking: I’ll control everything and then I’ll be okay and safe and loved.
It’s a way of trying to control what cannot be controlled. It’s an attempt to safeguard against chaos, aging, death, disease, vulnerability, other people’s choices, mistakes, other’s perceptions, insecurities, our bodies.
In short, perfectionism is against everything that being human is all about.
Railing against what we fundamentally cannot control is a task that will suck up all your energy and distract you from living your human life. Period.
Is that what you really want? Really?
So while you will probably look good doing it (for a while), your life isn’t going to go where you want it to. No matter what you do, you’ll face evidence that it is not good enough. Because try as you may, you will age. You will get sick. Your kids will mess up. People will sometimes not like you. If you see this as evidence of your failing, then it’s going to cause you a lot of pain.
It’s not your failing, it’s your humanity.
Trying to hold onto what cannot be controlled will ultimately become pretty unattractive. It shows up as nagging, micromanaging, rigidity, and inflexibility. It’s working doggedly at things that may not actually matter.
Plus, there is no such thing as perfect, so one never gets there. It’s by definition something that no person achieves. (That’s the fool’s errand part of this- it’s a stairway to nowhere).
It pulls us in the opposite direction from the things that we know produce actual joy: connection to others, meaningful work, activities where time flows without notice, humor, and light-heartedness.
I beg you, perfectionist, go another way. Take a new path. Don’t destroy yourself and the relationships you value and the human life you’ve been given.
The antidote to perfectionism is living boldly. It’s rejecting fear and saying, “I’m going to live my life in the way that matters to me. I’ll accept what I cannot control and focus on what I can.”
It’s important to have common sense and take precautions so as to reduce the risk of death and disease. It’s important to achieve things and have a nice house and look good too, if that’s what you value.
But don’t pursue out of fear, pursue out of joy. Do things because you want and it works for you. Don’t do it to ward off bad things, do it to enhance the quality of your life now.
Let go, really let go of all that is beyond what your brain and body can control. Let it go. If you do, you will be liberated to focus on what you can control. That’s yourself, your priorities, what you do with your time, who you love, and how you think about and experience the world.
There is a lot we get a say over in this life. Embrace those things. Love deeply. Live all-in. Don’t let fear get in your way.
Please, just say no to perfectionism. You have a real life to live.