Perfectly Imperfect

“Have no fear of perfection, you’ll never reach it.” Salvador Dali

You may ask, what’s wrong with being perfect? Isn’t it a commendable quality to have? There’s nothing wrong with wanting to improve yourself and getting the job well done, but perfectionists take it to a toxic level.

There exists an illusion of perfection as well a confusion between a healthy desire to excel and an insatiable, unhealthy need to be perfect.

If we look around today’s world, the pressure to be perfect is fierce, from how we look to having a successful career and life. The relentless pursuit for perfection is compounded by the endless onslaught of social media, which can have a major impact on our body and mind; everything from crippling stress, frustrations and disappointments to chronic anxiety, depression, exhaustion and burnout; not to mention the destructive effect on our relationships with family, friends and coworkers.

The perfection trap is a self-defeating cycle that sets you up for failure as it is impossible to attain the extreme goals. This failure creates a pattern of constant self-blame and self-criticism, which pushes you to try harder and the cycle repeats itself again. Each time you are reinforcing that you are not perfect as you get more and more discouraged. The irony is that while others may admire and be impressed by your accomplishments, you cannot enjoy them because being caught up in the perfection trap involves chronic undermining of yourself and minimizing your accomplishments, no matter how well you did.

The root of perfectionism stems from the fear of failure or the fear of not being good enough. And since there is a tendency for people to compare themselves with others, you can be hard on yourself, especially if you don’t achieve your goal. You believe that if you are perfect, you can finally prove to everyone that you are good enough. Heaven forbid if you make a mistake, for you’ll believe that people will think less of you; hence the fear of judgement and disappointing others.

Our early childhood experiences could also have played a role in how we think and what we believe today.  A perfectionist tendency can come from having parents with unrealistically high expectations. The message you received was that unless you did everything perfectly, your parents would withhold their love and approval until you got it right. You would be criticized and shamed for making mistakes. And to add insult to injury, they would also compare you to others: “Why can’t you be smart like your brother,” etc… leading you to believe that others were better than you.

Since our parents were our first role models, we learnt from them at a very early age that in order to gain their praise and approval, we had to be perfect. As adults, we may continue the perfectionistic approach as a way to protect ourselves against ridicule and punishment, but deep down inside, we are still seeking our parents’ approval.

Regardless of where it started or originated from, you are not responsible for how you were raised, nor do you want to spend your precious time trying to find blame. As a child, negative experiences may have contributed to your perfectionism today, but as an adult, it is your responsibility to seek help and learn to focus on what you can do to change the situation, and above all, give yourself the self-approval and self-acceptance you have been desperately looking for.  

In order to stop the unnecessary pain and further damage, let’s look at the following considerations that help set you free from the perfection trap and help you go from perfectionist to healthy achiever.

Perfectionism Striving for excellence
Set unrealistic goals, extreme expectations and unattainable goals Challenge yourself with high standards and goals within reach
 Never satisfied as they don’t achieve their desired goals / outcome oriented Enjoy the process as well as the end results/ process oriented
Always consumed by the fear of failure and disapproval/ fear driven                                                                          Sees failure as necessary part of learning/ urge to succeed
Emotionally draining/wastes energy worrying about the results / demoralizing Gets excited and uses energy to move towards goals/ motivating
No room for mistakes/ magnifies mistakes, becomes obsessed or avoids it all together; proves they are inadequate Always room for improvement /give yourself permission to make mistakes and learn from them
Becomes overly defensive when makes errors. Dwells on mistakes, agonizes over past Welcomes constructive feedback as stepping stones to success
Obsessed with doing the right thing Interested in doing the right thing
What you have accomplished is how you measure your self worth Who you are is the only true measure of self worth
Feel like they are never good enough/ unforgiving/ conditional love I’m good enough just the way I am/ accept yourself and even your flaws
 

 

Happy only when they are right, winning or number one                                   

             

Happy when they know they have done their best
Get stuck, too rigid, focused on small details Flexible and focused on big picture
Highly self-critical, demotivating, beat themselves up Encouraging, compassion and kind
Chronic procrastination, delay or ignore until can do it perfectly/ overthinking leads to analysis paralysis Break down overwhelming tasks into smaller steps, able to bounce back and move forward
Tries to please everyone and seeks their approval Be true to yourself/ value your needs
Negative rigid mindset, resistant to change Positive growth mindset and constructive thoughts
Black or white thinking/ there’s only a right and a wrong way of doing things Looks for different shades of grey/ there are many ways one can do things
Always preoccupied, caught in never-ending cycle, focus on what’s missing Relax, easy-going, focus on how they are striving

     

Kintsugi is the century old Japanese art of repairing broken pottery by filling the cracks with a golden lacquer, making the bowl even more unique and valuable. Just because it is broken, doesn’t mean it’s no longer useful. 

Kintsugu teaches us to embrace the beauty of our flaws and imperfections. Your greatest mistakes, your most difficult challenges and your deepest wounds make you stronger and better when you pick up the pieces; you heal and grow as you live to tell the story.  

As human beings, we are all fallible. Things in life don’t always work out. Deal with it and move on. We can always start over and break free from the perfectionist trap. Just as the repaired pottery becomes something new and more beautiful, we too can see our imperfections as gifts that make us shine. No need to hide or be shameful. Celebrate and honour your imperfections.

Attaining perfection is not the answer to finding inner peace or happiness.

Learn to find the beauty in the imperfections of life. 

The high cost of being a perfectionist is destroying your life.  By placing value on the learning that comes from failure, you can let go of the shame and blame of not being perfect. Forgiveness is about loving yourself for being you. You don’t have to be perfect in order to be worthwhile, loved or happy.

Give yourself credit and praise for all your efforts so you can enjoy your life and feel satisfied with what you do and who you are.

Reframe your attitude and your life will change. Don’t wait for perfection; it ain’t going to happen. Instead of striving to be perfect, strive to be yourself. Just be perfectly human.

As Leonard Cohen once said, “There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” 

                

Antoinette Giacobbe