It’s Time to Ditch Being a Perfectionist
“In nature, nothing is perfect, and everything is perfect. Trees can be contorted, bent in weird ways, and they’re still beautiful.”
I am a recovering perfectionist. I’ve come a long way from where I started on this journey years ago, and each step I take away from perfectionism is a step toward my health and wellbeing. The truth is, I never enjoyed being a perfectionist. It was almost like I was trapped by it and didn’t know how to escape. I naturally critiqued what was wrong, instead of what was right. I automatically looked for ways to make something good even better, shortchanging an appreciation for the process that it took me to reach the point of good. Yes, the outcome was usually outstanding, and I received praise from others for my work. But the reality is, I never reached perfection – this unattainable standard of flawlessness that continued to taunt my insatiable, perfectionistic appetite. I often asked myself, “Why is good never good enough for you?” Of course, I never had the perfect answer to that question.
One day, I had an awakening. I realized that being perfect is about being my best self and doing the best that I can in any given moment and situation. That may seem like a small thing, or it may even seem like common sense. Duh! But to a perfectionist, the standard is usually always outside of the self. It was some standard “out there” that I was always trying to achieve. It was only when I realized that the standard is within me, and within my capability and capacity, that I was freed from the grip of perfectionism. I wish I could tell you the moment it happened. I don’t remember. I believe it was me tiring of the empty feeling that I would get even after accomplishing something great. It got old.
As I moved along my journey away from perfectionism and toward being my best self, I came to know the difference between maladaptive and adaptive perfectionism. Maladaptive Perfectionism “is defined by having high personal performance standards and tendencies to be extremely self-critical in self-evaluations (Rice & Stuart, 2010).” [i] The maladaptive perfectionist seeks control, views everything as a competition, and yearns for approval from others. Rarely do they acknowledge anything as being good enough, which can lead to psychological and behavioral maladjustments like depression and anxiety, stress, suicidal thoughts, problems in relationships, and ironically the antithesis of what the perfectionist desires – lower performance.
Alternatively, Adaptive Perfectionism is “characterized as a normal, healthy type of perfectionism and is defined by deriving satisfaction from achievements made from intense effort but tolerating the imperfections without resorting to the harsh self-criticism that characterizes maladaptive perfectionism (Stoltz & Ashby, 2007).” Adaptive perfectionists are more likely to work cooperatively with others instead of seeing others as their competition. They “take into account their strengths and limitations and don’t overexert themselves unless it really matters.”[ii]
Comparatively, I feel more at home in the adaptive perfectionism camp, but I’ve moved even beyond there. I don’t just tolerate imperfections, sometimes I embrace them. It’s not that my standards are lowered; I still have high standards. I just appreciate the learning process and the evolving nature of things. And, not everything I do has to be done with such intensity. There is such a thing as having fun, letting things flow, and letting go. I’m now comfortable, happy even, to ditch the title of perfectionist. Instead, I like to say, “I’m doing the best I can, and it is perfect.”
Whatever your best is, that’s perfection. It is enough. You are enough. Really! Believe it. We can’t do any more than our best. And imperfections, they are like the tree in Alice Walker’s quote. There’s a beauty and a uniqueness found in imperfections that can’t be replicated. They also remind us that we’re still growing, still learning, and still becoming. Embracing your best as your personal standard of perfection takes your eyes off others and lets you appreciate your qualities and your path to excellence. And, you’ll have more fun.
Click here for the 10 Things You Gain by Ditching Perfectionism.
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[i] Improving Lives Counseling. (2013, July 27). An Exploration of Adaptive and Maladaptive Perfectionism as it Relates to Intimate Relationships