The Problem With Perfection
There is a lot of pressure to be perfect.
Just type the words “how to make a perfect” into google and see how it autocompletes the phrase, based on what others are searching for: steak, hard boiled egg, cup of coffee, burger, slime, margarita, pancake, omelet.
And then a few variations:
How to create the perfect… resume, eyebrow, meal, cover letter, outfit.
How to be the perfect… boyfriend, wife, girlfriend, daughter, husband, woman, man, child, student.
How to do the perfect… cat eye, wing, squat, eyebrows, ponytail, top knot, plank, makeup.
How to have the perfect… body, smile, instagram, lawn, golf swing, bath, picnic, day, summer.
Is any area of our lives untouched by a demand of perfection? It seems not. But maybe, if you work super-duper hard, you can be the perfect wife, daughter, and woman with the perfect smile, golf swing and bath who does the perfect hard boiled egg, slime and top knot. Ta-dah!
And then… what? What does all this perfection get you? You may think there’s a pot of gold at the end of the perfection rainbow, but really, it leaves you with a big heaping dose of not good enough.
Because: perfection is an illusion.
You may tell yourself that perfectionism is about having high standards and striving to be your best. But these are convenient beliefs that help maintain the illusion. Perfectionism is really about avoiding criticism and gaining approval.
It’s about wanting to look good, where good means being in control, never showing any mistakes, any insecurities, any stumbles, anything that could be perceived as weakness. It’s about being impeccably unimpeachable in what you show the world so no one can find a fault.
That’s where the idea of perfect breaks down – it relies entirely on others’ opinions, which makes it a constantly-moving target. Just take the google search for “how to make a perfect cup of coffee” – it has 45,000,000 results. 45 million! If there were actually such a thing as a perfect cup of coffee, we’d need only one result (because it would be perfect!).
Google provides another revealing example. There was one item that was offered up multiple times in the autocompletes for the searches above… messy bun. A perfect messy bun? Messy is in the name! It is, by definition, meant to be not perfect. (Psst: in case you’re wondering, a messy bun is not a new food trend. It’s a hairstyle.)
Perfectionism is about performance, where your value relies on accomplishment. It’s rooted in shame and fueled by fear, creating a desire for control. What do people think of me? Will they like me? I must make absolutely sure they have no reason to criticize and reject me.
When you are in the grip of perfectionism, any risk of not hitting the mark puts your self-worth on the line. You’re constantly hustling and hiding. Hustling to meet the demand of being perfect while hiding anything that doesn’t fit the image. It’s relentless, especially because you become your own worst critic. By judging your own abilities – what you do and how you do it – you feed the cycle of perfectionism by holding yourself to an unattainable standard and reinforcing the belief that you don’t measure up.
What is the antidote to perfectionism? Authenticity.
Authenticity means letting go of who you think you should be and accepting who you are.
Authenticity allows for imperfection, to try something new or do something you haven’t yet mastered, because that’s who you are in that moment.
If you’ve been living under the strict dictator of perfectionism, the idea of authenticity can sound shocking and maybe a little scary. I can be myself? How do I do THAT?
Fortunately, authenticity isn’t an either/or, like you have it or you don’t. It’s not a talent, it’s not an innate trait that you inherit. Authenticity is something you choose to do. It’s a daily practice.
Embrace who you are. If you’re a beginner, be a beginner. Show up and be real. Do what you can, go from where you are, work with what you’ve got. That’s it – be the YOU that you are.
“Perfectionism is a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from taking flight. It’s the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect and act perfect we can minimize or avoid the painful feelings of blame, judgment and shame.” – Brené Brown