Updated: Nov 18, 2019
There, I said it. I am a recovering perfectionist. It's true. I even made a club called Perfectionists Anonymous. We don't meet often and we don't have bracelets. In fact, so far, it's only me, but maybe we'll have more members by the end of the article.
What is a "recovering perfectionist" you might wonder? I'm glad you asked.
As you may have guessed, a perfectionist is someone who strives for perfection, which according to the dictionary, is defined as, "the state or quality of being perfect". What does perfect mean?
Perfect is defined as:
Having all the required or desirable elements, qualities, or characteristics; as good as it is possible to be
Free from any flaw or defect in condition or quality; faultless
Precisely accurate; exact
Highly suitable for someone or something; exactly right
As a definition that's great, but using perfection to define ourselves? Now that's a different story.
Let's dig a little deeper… This definition means that as a "perfectionist" we are trying to:
1. Have all the required or desirable elements?
I think this is the epitome of what we chase. We want to be everything, do everything, and have everything. Is that even possible? If you've figured out a way to have all the elements, qualities, and characteristics you desire, wow do I have questions for you (seriously, message me).
2. Be free from any flaws or defects in condition or quality; faultless
Firstly, free from flaws? Everybody has flaws. We all have failures, embarrassing stories, and moments that we wouldn't want to repeat. That's how we learn, grow, and get better. If you have never failed at ANYTHING, I don't think you're playing big enough.
Secondly, refer to my first blog post ever. Hannah Montana said "Nobody's Perfect", and if there ever was a mid-2000's pop icon that successfully emulated a perfect Rockstar while also lived a double life as a somewhat weird, outgoing, yet mostly loveable teenager. I mean, come on people, I can't think of a more credible source!
3. Be highly suitable for someone
Suitable for someone; someone ELSE? Are you kidding me?! Do you want to chase ~elements, qualities, and characteristics~ that are suitable for someone else? If you do, you definitely would not have made it this far into the article, never mind into my blog. My guess is you're reading this because you want to be better for YOU, not somebody else.
Keeping with the theme of cheesy, yet inspirational quotes, listen to Audrey Hepburn. She said, "I'd rather be a first rate version of myself, than a second-rate version of someone else". Isn't that true?
Now, before we get too ahead of ourselves, I want to clarify something. There is a huge difference between perfection and excellence. I am arguing that chasing perfection is a bad thing. Chasing excellence - which is defined as "the quality of being outstanding or extremely good" - now that's something to aim for. As high as we aim, there are always ways to improve. That's a healthy standard, in my opinion.
Why is Perfectionism dangerous?
I chased perfectionism for years. I know most people say "Oh, I was a perfectionist. I wanted to do everything right. I got straight A's in school." No, no, no, my friends, my form of perfectionism ran MUCH deeper. We're talking all clothes hanging the same ways on a hanger. Only I could pack my dance bag for fear it would be packed wrong. Days of the week underwear and socks that could only be worn on the exact day of the week (otherwise, a travesty would ensue).
Not only did the results need to be perfect, but the process did too.
We're talking excruciatingly late nights, extreme effort (and occasional tantrums) to maintain straight A's while also remembering every single piece of choreography (and correction) required as a competitive dancer AND remembering to clean my laundry and write a thank you email. Oh, and also remembering exactly who was where last weekend based on Snapchat stories so I could hold a decent conversation at the lunch table the next week. I was trying to do ALL the things to get ahead because I didn't want to feel left behind.
Perfectionism isn't a competition.
This is not a "I was more of a perfectionist than you so you should listen to me" article. Living your life in pursuit of an unattainable standard or trying to please somebody else is not fun, no matter how much you do it. My point is: having perfectionist tendencies - on ANY level - is exhausting (I know because I had many).
When we're striving for perfection, there are worse implications than exhaustion. The issue is that aiming for no flaws means that we are afraid to be seen as who we truly are. It means hiding the parts of ourselves we don't think other people will accept. It means not sharing our whole selves in fear that people won't accept us for doing the things that we want - or love - to do.
Guess what? Often times, the things we hide about ourselves are what make us, well, US! They are what make us special, unique, and exciting.
Let me tell you something...
I never would have found the courage to start this blog or share publicly on Instagram if I was still chasing perfection. Maybe your life/social circles are different, but in my life, fitness was something people complained about. Not just complained about, but bonded over complaining about. Daring to admit that I actually enjoyed going to the gym, or that I think long runs are therapeutic, or that burpees can be fun (with the right background music). Well, shoot, that surely did not sound like something that my social circle would accept.
You want to know what happened next? You know it - in a brave act of defiance against my former perfectionist self, I started sharing. The people who I thought really wouldn't approve? They didn't mind at all. In fact, some of them even reached out to say "you've really inspired me to exercise more/take better care of myself", "you've showed me that it's do-able", "you make it fun", and "keep going". Even better, I have touched a lot of people who are also into fitness - and I'm just getting started.
What if I had been too afraid? Okay, bad question, I was afraid. I did it anyways. What if I had been wrapped up in the fear of "failing", having all the desired elements of a blogger, or being faultless? There's no way I ever would have started!
Starting Something New
The first time we do ANYTHING challenging isn't going to be perfect. If it is perfect, it's not a challenge.
Think of the first time you drove a car. Were you perfect at it? No. Did you embrace being imperfect for a while because you wanted the freedom of transporting yourself with the windows down and music playing at a reasonable and socially conscious volume? Just kidding, we all KNOW I blared my music - sorry mom! (but if you thought otherwise, the only person you were kidding was yourself). Anyways, I digress.
We weren't perfect and it didn't matter what other people thought of our driving because all our friends were either new drivers, or knew the feeling of being a new driver. Newsflash: it kinda sucks.
My point is: learning to overcome perfectionism is a skill. Just like driving for the first time, it's scary. It's overwhelming. It might not feel great, but it is important to keep the end goal in sight, whether that is geographical freedom or something much, much bigger.
When we are not worried about being perfect, we allow ourselves to be, well, ourselves! Do you know how liberating that is? Imagine not fearing what other people will say about you. Knowing that people will talk, but not worrying about if they don't like you. Knowing that you’re doing something different, and being okay with it - because, at the end of the day, the most important opinion of you is the one you hold about yourself.
So, I urge you: Stop chasing flawless and start chasing REAL. Stop chasing safe and start chasing SCARY. Stop chasing perfect and start chasing EXCELLENCE.
I'm not saying, go screw the system and completely disregard other people's input and opinions. That would be insensible and rude. If you're in school, I'm not saying you shouldn't aim for getting the highest marks YOU possibly can. If you work full-time, I'm not saying don't show up and give your best effort everyday or ignore your performance review. If you're an athlete, I'm not saying it's a bad thing to go the extra mile for your team. Whatever you are, I'm not saying you shouldn't show up everyday and give life your all.
What I am saying is that you should show up everyday and try your very best because that is what YOU want, and you are chasing YOUR version of success - not somebody else's. Own who you are and go after what you want. And, if you are a perfectionist looking to recover? Join the club. It's anonymous; I promise.