5 Steps to Overcoming your Perfectionism

I am the textbook case on how NOT to live your life as a perfectionist. When it comes to finding a suitable career, I figure that since everyone else exaggerates their experience and abilities, society obviously doesn’t value honesty; so why even bother applying? When it comes to making friends, I know that at some point down the road I will end up disappointing them; so why even try? Why try a new hobby, when you’re just going to look stupid? Why stay in touch with family, when you haven’t accomplished anything in your life?

Rather than being the self-preservation techniques we believe them to be, these thoughts are actually the cause of all of our miseries. The few folks our perpetual self-deprecation hasn’t turned off completely offer us advice like, “get over it” or “just do what you need to do”. Unfortunately, these admonishments have no effect on our brains. We perfectionists need to be in the right mindset first, in order to “just do” anything.

So it is with this special requirement in mind, that I provide this action plan for all my fellow perfectionists out there. I might be too far gone, but perhaps you can save yourselves using my experience, and the terrible example I’ve set.

Step 1: Accept your mediocrity.

You are never going to be an Einstein, or Yo-Yo Ma, or Michael Jordan. That doesn’t mean you are not entitled to a fulfilled and happy life pursuing what inspires you: even if those interests include science, music, or athletics. Interest is the real key to happiness, not ability. Ability can be developed over time.

Step 2: Accept other people’s failings.

Even if you try to explain it to them, no one is ever really going to understand the extent to which you put yourself down, and put those around you on a pedestal. So if you are the recipient of even a tiny insult, a baseless accusation, or an unwarranted criticism, the deliverer of that negativity could not possibly know just how devastating such an attack can be on your psyche. Remember that not everyone internalizes their failings as we perfectionists do. Others project their insecurities onto random people they meet instead. Chances are — especially if it didn’t make any sense — that insult had much less to do with you than you think, and much more to do with the perpetrator’s self-loathing.

Step 3: Take one risk every day.

You will fail. You will fail again, and again, and again; until one day, somewhere down the road, you won’t. And if you never took that one specific risk, you never will have had the success that follows it. But there is no telling which risk that will be. So you’d better get cracking immediately. Don’t worry, perfectionists, this piece of advice is only for you. You already overthink things way too much; I trust that there is no risk you would possibly take that could cause any sort of lasting damage. We are far too conscientious already.

Step 4: Finish what you start.

It doesn’t matter if what you end up with is unmitigated excrement. This is our biggest fear as perfectionists: completing half a project, and realizing that it’s never going to be as good as we envisioned. But the cost to our mental health of burdening our consciences with incomplete tasks, is so much greater than producing a mediocre result. Just finish it, and let it go. You will feel so much better in the long run.

Step 5: Stop over-anticipating other people’s actions.

This drives folks crazy, and is the main reason some people might not want to be around us. Sometimes you’re just going to have to let people get angry at you, or be the butt of someone’s joke. There is no way around it in life. Just remember that in your perceived ‘disappointing’ of them, they are projecting some of their own disappointment in themselves on to you. They’re really in the same boat you are, they just have a more aggressive way of expressing insecurity.

If you recognize yourself in this depiction, my hope is you will take some of these words to heart. You are not alone in your internal struggles, and you have at least one fellow perfectionist cheering you on.