Dealing With the Curse of Perfection
I was always a bit of a screw-up, especially when it came to doing what was expected of me — or at least what I thought was expected of me. The youngest of two, rebellious, and spoilt — It’s tough to pinpoint a moment where things looked promising.
Looking back, I always had piss poor confidence. I was popular but felt inferior…
And I’ll stop with the theatrics right there.
I should have been confident. I looked around in envy as I saw other people do or achieve what I couldn’t — or at least believed I couldn’t. And I felt useless because of it.
What a shit sorry state to exist in — a state which eventually contributed to crippling panic, anxiety, depression, and the world’s most persistent bastard of a headache.
And then came the therapy…
After five years of having my head examined while simultaneously losing my mind, I sat opposite yet another shrink who diagnosed me with yet another malfunction. She told me I was a perfectionist.
“Me? A perfectionist? How can that be? I’m shit!”
Clearly, I missed the point.
When I was diagnosed with this manure like condition, I was proud of myself for a minute. It showed I cared. About everything. And that had to be a good thing, right? Aren’t we told to tell the interviewer we’re a perfectionist when asked for a weakness? Because you can put a positive spin on it. Course you can. You can put a positive spin on anything. Doesn’t mean you’re any less fucked for it!
Until, of course, you drop your ego and start to embrace it. And we’ll get to that.
In the meantime, how can something that ruins so many be considered positive?
Is it due to the deadly narrative in the world continuously telling us we need to do and be more?
Because we glorify “busy” and speak of burnout as if it’s something to be proud of?
Because industries have been telling us we’re useless, ugly bastards since the dawn of capitalism?
Because ordinary people convince us we have to lead extraordinary lives? And anything less is a failure? The d*ckheads!
And is it because it’s so deeply ingrained in our DNA that we too conduct ourselves like assholes when telling others how they should live their lives?
Self-compassion is something you rarely entertain — because what have you done to deserve it? Ironically, you might be crying out for compassion from others, but you sure as shit refuse to show it to yourself. And it’s not like you struggle to validate feelings of inadequacy. There’s a lot of assholes in this world frothing at the mouth for an opportunity to tell you how much you suck at life.
A PERFECT STORM
My diagnosis startled me in many ways. “How can I be a perfectionist when my life is such a mess?” And then, like an atomic bomb erupting in my anus, it all made sense. (Unlike that analogy. I’m assuming if an atomic bomb went off inside me, I’d know about it. And then I’d be dead. And so to would you.)
My fears made sense. My stress made sense. My overwhelming disappointment in life made sense. And yes, my anxiety, panic, and depression all made sense.
I was trying to attain the unattainable. My insufferable pursuit of perfection only increased the likelihood of me screwing up. And while my ambitions demanding the best may have been noble, the reality was detrimental. Such is the paradox of perfection.
My expectations were as bonkers as my mind — because they were a product of a mind gone mad. I wanted to be the funniest. I wanted to be the wealthiest. I wanted to be the best-looking. I wanted to be the best at sports. I wanted all the girls to like me the most. Hell, I probably wanted the boys to like me best also. I wanted to be the most confident and polished — to be completely unflawed.
It’s embarrassing to admit it. If I couldn’t be the best or didn’t believe I could — then why even try? And because my self-belief was in the gutter, try in many things, I fucking did not — because that would show I cared!
Perfection is protection — protection from all our insecurities.
I didn’t want any of this because I wanted people to envy me. I wanted it because I felt inadequate and uncomfortable without it. I wasn’t infected with aids. I was infected by society. Know what I mean?
“Perfectionism is best conceptualized as a multidimensional characteristic. Psychologists agree there are many positive and negative aspects. In its maladaptive form, perfectionism drives people to attempt to achieve an unattainable ideal. When perfectionists do not reach their goals, they often fall into depression.” — Wikipedia
It’s encouraging to hear there are positives, but where’s the balance? Most are stuck in the maladaptive mode trying to hit a home run with a shit bat, going up against a pitcher who may as well be firing fucking missiles!
We set ridiculous standards for ourselves. And we set ridiculous standards for others. Is it any wonder perfection is causing so much destruction?
Do you feel that no matter what you do or how hard you try, it’s never enough?
Have you laser focus for all you don’t have or are yet to achieve?
Are you comparing yourself to those who seem to have it all?
Is everything you’ve accomplished thus far insignificant and not to be celebrated?
Are you so obsessed with your weaknesses that you forget you have strengths?
Have you a huge checklist of things you need to do today, not for it to be a success, but for it to not be a failure?
Congratulations. You’ve created an ideal. And you’re fucking not it. And so, you feel all sorts of crap as a result.
You’ve got to be realistic with what you want and value in life, and the timeline you give yourself to accomplish your goals. We’re not all created equal. Circumstances and environment matter. Some have to tread water — others have to tread shit. Either way, get in and swim. Seek advice and counsel, but for Christ sake, don’t compare your journey to others.
WHAT’S FUELLING THIS DISEASE?
Parents, peers, teachers. Celebrities, models, influencers. Governments, corporations, industries. The media — both traditional and social.
Gossip magazines and celebrity columnists who shine a light on those they perceive to be perfect until an opportunity presents itself to ridicule and tear them down. “You’re looking a little fat, my dear.” “OMG, you’re such a skinny bitch, can you put on some f*cking weight please?”
Most are slaves to this disease because education sucks. We learn all about the composition of rocks, but nothing about our mind or emotions. We’re not taught to love or accept ourselves. We’re told we’re not enough — to do more and be better.
A society where people are comfortable in their skin wouldn’t work under the current model. And that model makes a lot of assholes — who don’t care about your mental health — a lot of money. “But that’s just the way the world is! It’s always been like that. Toughen up, p*ssy!” That’s what they say. And that shit hurts. “So fuck you, I’m going to borrow money to buy a shiny new sports car. And I don’t care if I can’t pay it off. At least that way people will think I’m happy.”
Speaking of which — Instagram has raised the stakes for all. Now you can create a perfect life by putting a filter on it. Unfortunately, this highly addictive technology ensures most get so wrapped up in creating a formidable presence online, that they forget to live their life offline. And that’s a box Pandora doesn’t want me to open today.
Every industry — not every company — will prey on your fears and insecurities to sell you happiness. And the wrapping will look perfect to you. It has to. Everything has to be perfect to hide your imperfections.
How’s this worked out so far?
It’s cool you’re trying to be the best version of yourself — who doesn’t want that? The problem is our expectations have become so grand that it’s almost impossible to meet them. And then what happens? A lot of shit that nobody in their right mind wants to deal with. Anxiety. Panic attacks. Depression — the whole crew shows up. And before you know it, you’re stuck on the couch watching love island!
REWINDING THE CLOCK
We’re stripped of our identities shortly after we start pissing in the potty. A gentle boy is told to be tough. A sporty girl is told to be pretty. We’re told what we can and can’t do. Who to aspire to and who to look down on. This often has us aspiring to be assholes and looking down on some of the kindest people in society. All because of money.
Herd mentality then kicks in because everybody wants to be accepted. And how does one go about this? By hiding their true self for fear of judgment and potential ridicule.
You must be perfect.
I don’t think there’s a woman on this planet that hasn’t battled with her eating habits at some stage of her life. And we know how much men are struggling with their identity these days. The muscles are bigger than King Kong’s, but on the inside, they’re drowning. All because they’re terrified to ask for help.
Swedish superstar DJ, Avicii, recently lost his life to suicide. Avicii openly struggled with anxiety and alcohol dependency. Having retired from performing two years prior for the good of his health, he couldn’t believe the pressure he felt from those around him to continue performing — even though he said he believed it would kill him.
His family released a statement saying;
“Our beloved Tim was a seeker, a fragile artistic soul searching for answers to existential questions. An over-achieving perfectionist who traveled and worked hard at a pace that led to extreme stress.”
This, unfortunately, is not a unique story. At least he’s found peace, and hopefully, the family can find peace knowing that.
So, what’s fuelling this disease?
Society. Society is the incinerator and this motherucker’s burning.
Real freedom comes with acceptance and just letting go a little. Easier said than done I know. However, once you build self-awareness, you’ll be able to catch your perfectionist tendencies and let go of the bad habits currently holding you hostage.
HERE ARE 6 TIPS TO HELP YOU OUT:
1. Play with rejection.
If perfection is a guard and one of our biggest fears is rejection, it makes sense that by creating a better relationship with rejection, you’ll create a better relationship with perfection.
Most fear rejection so much that they put off doing whatever they need to do to live a fulfilled life. Be open to rejection. Play with it. Make a game of it, and soon you’ll experience true comfort that can only be found outside of your comfort zone.
Slips ups happen. Embrace them. Celebrate them. And go again. You’ll be surprised how much better you feel as you begin to build emotional resilience.
There’s an excellent TED Talk on rejection therapy which you can watch here.
2. Reveal yourself
You don’t need to share your problems with the world, but you should share your fears, struggles, and vulnerabilities with those that matter. Don’t use it as a means to manipulate. Assholes do that. Use it as a means to open up and let someone in. Use it as a means to create a real connection.
Perfection is a myth. Imperfection is what brings us together.
3. Use the +2 rule.
Olivia Fox Cabane talks about this in her incredible book, “The Charisma Myth.” The goal is to make you feel better for being overly harsh on yourself. For example, if you rate yourself a 7 in the looks department, the rule requires you to add 2 points, and whoop-de-doo, you’re now a 9. Congratulations, you beautiful bastard! Use it anytime you’re critiquing yourself or your work.
4. Reflect often and practice gratitude.
Reflection will help you realize whenever you’re acting irrationally. Over time you’ll be able to flag it and act compassionately.
Gratitude will ensure you appreciate all you have, so you’ll stop beating yourself up on the journey to achieving your greater goals. And in doing so, you’ll significantly increase the likelihood of achieving those goals.
5. Manage your media consumption
Most people’s online presence is a complete fabrication because they only post that which will induce envy. By all means, consume it if you must but know if they’ve gone to such trouble, they too are struggling with perfection.
It’s all extremely draining!
Is the media you consume making you feel good about yourself? Or is it making you feel crap? If it makes you feel crap — stop consuming it. It sounds ridiculous to pay someone to make you feel like crap, does it not? The same applies to the company you keep.
6. Put yourself first
This is not a “permission to be a dick” card. This is permission to play your “self-respect” card. Stop putting everything you want to do on hold because you fear your decisions might not be supported or accepted. You’ve got to make your own mistakes in life. There’s nothing more soul destroying than choosing the wrong path for the sake of others.
Do what’s right for you and your health.
I have no clue what’s right for you, but I hope you have a better understanding of how your perfectionism is negatively impacting your life with some good actionable takeaways to help tame the beast.
What’s holding you back and causing you to be so hard on yourself? Think long and hard about that, and just do you. That’s all you really can do. You can pretend to be someone else, but that’s exhausting.
Drop the guard. Everybody screws up from time to time. It’s part of being human. You’ll find so much liberation in letting go just a little and being open to things maybe not working out as planned. After that, magic can happen. And at the very least, you’ll start to learn some precious life lessons that will help you grow. Is that not what it’s all about?
You have strengths. You have weaknesses. Your genes play a role in both. Figure out your strengths and work towards them. And stop beating yourself up because you live in a world full of insecure people who get off on creating insecurities in others.
BEFORE YOU GO:
If you struggle with anxiety and are looking for greater peace of mind, subscribe below for free access to my anti-anxiety micro-course covering 5 fundamentals for a better life.
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This article was originally posted on The Good Men Project.