My Painful Pursuit of Perfection

One of my biggest fears has always been a fear of failure. I’m not even really sure where it stems from, but it’s led me to be painfully perfectionistic (is that a real word?). I used to believe that perfectionism was an admirable personality trait, and I wore it with pride. Here’s the thing, it wasn’t creating high levels of performance, it created paralysis. When faced with trying some new activity, if I weren’t 100% positive that I could ace it, I wouldn’t even try. That’s not admirable, it’s not honorable, it’s just failing ahead of time. Instead of pushing me to do more and be better, my desire for perfection kept me playing small. I used to think being a perfectionist helped my self-confidence. But now I see it was just cutting my confidence off at the knees. 

When I made a mistake, I would beat myself up endlessly. I would replay my mistakes in my head over and over mixed with an endless stream of self-criticism. “Oh my god, I can’t believe how awful that was. I’m never going to be good at this. That was awful, I sounded like a complete idiot. No one is ever going to take me seriously,” and on and on and on it would go. I thought to be a perfectionist made me a better performer, and that beating myself up would prevent me from making the same mistake again. Also, I realized being trapped in my own head was “easier” than dealing with the actual emotions I was running from, such as shame, embarrassment, or disappointment. I thought that beating myself up was necessary for me to improve. But it was actually slowing me down and derailing my progress. I’d be so wrapped up in my head obsessing about doing everything “right” that it prevented me from taking any action at all. The self-criticism felt purposeful, necessary even, but it was secretly stealing time that I could have spent taking action.   

My perfectionism has been a source of burnout. I’ve been so hard on myself that it sucked the joy out of everything; coaching, writing, studying, learning. I was so emotionally exhausted and frustrated from battling my perfectionist brain that I wanted to give up. This didn’t feel good. It wasn’t fun. Why would I want to continue doing anything that would just result in self-assault? So I would blame whatever thing I was working on that I thought was causing me pain, and I thought the answer was to quit. I blamed my blog, learning how to write copy, learning how to build a website, learning how to coach clients. Everything and anything could be used as evidence that I wasn’t good enough, I wasn’t doing it right, or someone was doing it better. Striving for perfection wasn’t motivating me to be better, it was making me want to give up.

I was listening to a podcast about being a perfectionist by Jody Moore, another Coach, and felt like she was describing me. Being a perfectionist has not helped me excel or step up my game. Instead, it has robbed me of any feelings of satisfaction, fulfillment, or pride in the work I’ve done. She spoke about how, with perfectionists, nothing is ever “complete.” That’s me! I will edit, re-edit, take a break and then edit some more. But here’s the crazy part. It’s not like all of that re-work results in any sort of satisfaction because the whole time, I’m only focused on what’s lacking and imperfect instead of allowing myself to see the good. 

Here’s the other problem, the way we do one thing is how we do everything. Perfectionism shows up in my marriage, how I parent my kids, and my relationships with friends. I can be hyper-critical of my husband and my kids. I have a bad habit of expecting people to have the same level of expectations that I do and can become easily frustrated when they don’t. I frequently discount any progress or achievements in my business and personal life if they aren’t achieved via perfect execution. I’ll brush them off as flukes or luck, discounting the arduous work I’ve actually done instead of taking credit for the fact that maybe the reason I was able to get where I am is because of my efforts, my skills, MY VALUE. 

I’m not saying we shouldn’t strive for excellence or to continue to be our best selves. I’m saying that striving for excellence is very different than being a perfectionist, and you’ll know the difference by how you feel. Striving for excellence is motivating and creates determination. Even though it may require really hard work, striving for excellence doesn’t require a sacrifice of your self-esteem. Your beliefs about your value are not tied to it.

I’m still a recovering perfectionist. It’s something I continue to be aware of and work on every day. I am working on embracing good instead of obsessing over perfect. I’m working on gaining awareness surrounding my all or nothing mentality and that I tend to think in extremes when my perfectionist side is taking over. I remind myself that value is never conditional. I am valuable and worthy right now. I did a google search asking for the difference between perfectionism and excellence. I found a quote from Marc Winn, that read, “Perfectionism is focused on “doing the thing ‘right,'” how things APPEAR, and if OTHERS think it’s done right. Excellence is about “doing the right thing.” It is focused on the REASON for a task, and the RESULTS for it to be a success.” I think that about covers it. 

PS. I only edited this three times, okay four. It’s still progress! 

If you thought the point of coaching was to have a perfect life, you’re wrong. But it can help you be perfectly happy with your life.  Schedule that FREE 45 min coaching consult. Don’t be scared. It’ll be awesome, I promise.