Confessions of a perfectionist

Five quotes of a perfectionist to help you reflect on your own perfectionism

1) “I constantly worried that my imperfect status would be discovered. I often experienced guilt but didn’t know why. I felt the heavy weight of impossible expectations and had the insatiable desire to explain every mistake.”

Do you experience this? Do you watch yourself in interactions with others, being careful to catch and fix any mistakes (e.g. something you said that could be misinterpreted in a negative light, or perhaps you weren’t kind or supportive or empathetic enough)?

What if you just relaxed? What if you trusted that you are kind and a generally good person, and that most people sense this—and what does it really matter anyway, that they recognize it?  You don’t need to manage every impression.

2) “I focused on the things I could handle, the things I excelled in, my disciplined life, and my unshakeable good mood.”
Are you the person everyone can count on to cheer them up, make them laugh, and help them see the silver lining? Are you always (or almost always) easy to be around, and make few demands on others? I’m an optimist and genuinely love life and its inherent goodness.  For this reason happiness is one of my most favorite subjects of study.

Somehow over time, though, this morphed into being recognized as a happiness expert, something I enjoy yet at the same time can become quite self-conscious about (try being on national television talking about happiness and then acting grumpy on the plane home, praying afterwards that no one recognized you!). I’ve started to feel like I have to be up all the time, “on” all the time, because people expect it.  After all, if I’m not cheery, surely all those tools and tips I swear by can’t really be working and then I must be a hypocrite. Sigh.

So many of us are trying to live up to expectations or reputations. A good reputation is a good thing, but it goes bad when you start to feel that you can’t be human. What if you just let yourself be your messy human self and trusted that all would be okay anyway? That your real self, with its full range of emotion and performance (from great to profoundly imperfect) is just fine. More than enough, actually.

perfectionism3) “I taught people around me that I had no needs and then was secretly angry with them for believing me.”
Have you done this one? One of the things I’ve worked on lately is to express my needs really clearly. I discovered I had a funny habit of saying to my husband: “You know, most women need (fill in the blank).” I’ve finally learned to say: “I need (fill in the blank).” If I need it, it’s important and I can safely express it, I don’t need to hide behind a group of people to justify it. What a revelation.

4) “Because I care so much what you think, my hiding has everything to do with you. I desperately want to manage your opinion of me. Nearly everything I do is to convince you I am good. If I sense any hint of disbelief on your part that I am good, if it seems your opinion is other than what I wish it to be, it becomes my job to change your mind.”

If someone doesn’t see the truth about you, or disapproves of you in some way, do you feel the need to change their mind? This is exhausting and very hard to let go of if this is how you’ve lived your life forever. Become aware of when you’re doing it and just let it go. There are far better things to spend your energy and your thoughts on.

5) “The energy it takes to live for you is killing me…”
Is it killing you? Let’s take a deep breath together and resolve to stop trying so hard. Live for what you believe to be good, right, and true. Do your best to be kind and treat people well, without needing to be perfect. Do it without self-consciousness or self-evaluation. Sometimes you will fail. That’s okay.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to fully let go of the relentless standards, people-pleasing and performing that have been the stuff of life since I was a small child, but I can begin (and begin again, every day) by cultivating awareness of what I habitually do and why. Even if this pattern in you seems too deeply entrenched to change, I encourage you to be hopeful and to start by just noticing it.

Practice letting go, and reminding yourself that to the essence of your very cells you are enough. You are good enough just as you are. You don’t need to prove it to anyone. The people who count most will already know, anyway.