Not. Good. Enough.
If my life had a theme song, that would be the title. I’m not exactly sure where my desire for that constant perfection came from, but it was here, for as long as I can remember.
Actually, I’m not entirely sure if it’s so much of a desire to be perfect, as it is a paralyzing fear of failure. It doesn’t matter if I’m cooking, cleaning, working, blogging, exercising- I’ve always felt the need for everything to go and be…. perfect. I’m not talking about the drive and need to excel- because there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. I’m talking about that constant need to control the outcome of every possible situation. I’m talking about obsessive double-triple checking, putting yourself down and never acknowledging your victories, however small or big.
Perfectionism is often linked to depression and anxiety. I don’t need to read any research papers that prove this because I’ve suffered from both. Right now though, I am mostly in a great place in my life. Even though I’ve had a really rough year with my loss and my recent injury, I kind of finally understand what it means for things to “fall into place.”
I like to think of myself as a work in progress. I still have things to work on- like my short temper (meditation definitely helps with that!) but one thing that I’m slowly letting go off, is perfectionism.
I’ve learned to let go and surrender- that’s how I’m overcoming perfectionism.
… for that perfect moment. If you wait, it’ll never come. Trust me on this one. I think that a lot us of spend majority of our time waiting. I know people who spend their entire lives… waiting. I hear people say, all the time: “I just can’t wait to get a better job“, “I will be happy when I get a bigger house” or “I will be happy when I’ll meet the one“, “I will start once I’m ready.”
You can spend your entire life, saying these things. You can spend the rest of your life waiting to start living.
When I closed down my first blog and created Thirteen Thoughts, I wanted it to be perfect. I wanted to have nice photos, a good layout, and great content. I was kind of frustrated when I first started getting into photography and discovered just how much I suck at it. I didn’t know how to tweak my blog design and was completely clueless when it came to using WordPress. I barely posted any content and kept telling myself “I’ll just wait until I get a hang of this camera” or “I’ll just wait until I get some studio lights“. Truth is, the only way for me to actually learn something, was to start. If I hadn’t put that thinking behind, I’d miss out on finding something that I’m passionate about, something that brings a lot of joy into my life. The only way to learn, is to do, try and practice.
FIND YOUR TRIBE…
I’m a homebody. I don’t go out too often anymore, but occasionally my best friend will convince me to out for drinks after work. She knows that I am a total control freak, (the night has to be planned down to the last detail) so she’ll send me the name of the place she’s taking me to and, if applicable, she’ll attach a website and a link to Yelp reviews. I’m being totally serious. This girl knows that I need to know things (like… does the place have food? Is the food plant-based friendly? Do they have an outdoor bar? Where can I park? Is there a fee for parking? Where exactly is the bathroom?!). She’s completely different from me, but she gets me. She knows how to put me at ease so that when I go out I don’t have to worry about stupid shit like whether or not I have enough quarters to park my car (well my night could be ruined if I was forced to get some change). I can just let go of my need to control, and enjoy the moment and have fun instead. People like her, you keep around.
Overcoming perfectionism can be nearly impossible if you’re surrounded by people who are too hard on you, hold high expectations or refuse to celebrate your victories. The fear of failure, fear of disappointing someone, fear of not being liked- these are all linked to perfectionism.
Point is, you can’t waste your time on negative people or those who hold you to impossibly high standards. And, you can’t waste your time not being who you really are, being afraid of saying what you want to say or do things you feel like doing, without the fear of being judged. Surround yourself with people who make you feel at ease and help you grow. Be around those who don’t make you feel like you have to be perfect all the time and like you for who you are.
Perfectionists can feel a strong need to always be in control of their emotions. I never understood where my social anxiety came from, but I’m starting to think that it’s linked to that constant need to be perfect at all times. I never made a lot of friends in college for a very simple reason: I didn’t want to. I was working full-time so I just didn’t have the time. When I went to class, it was just to listen to the lecture, take notes and basically get my money’s worth. The only classmates I ever talked to were my lab partners. Then, during my last year in college, I was invited to a conference in Boston, along with three other students from my year, to present our senior theses. Instead of feeling accomplished and excited, I started panicking. Being the control freak that I am, I took it upon myself to book our hotel rooms (even though there were three of us girls, I needed to make sure that I’ll have a separate room all to myself) and arrange for all of us to meet at the train station. I had to be in complete control, otherwise, everything would turn into a huge mess.
When we finally got there, I just wanted to go to my hotel room and sit there until the conference started the next day. I wanted to allow myself as much time to prepare as possible, even though I had my entire research memorized. Somehow, we all ended up going out to dinner, we had some drinks and I actually ended up enjoying myself. By the time the weekend was over, I felt like I was spending time with a bunch of old friends. We had some deep conversations, we laughed and joked and just had a good time. During our last night, one of the girls said to me “you know, I never would’ve guessed that you’re so cool and fun” and then she added “when I first saw you in class I thought you were a total bitch” … “sorry” she added when I looked at her, amused.
Truth is, I get that all the time. People always think I’m mean, sad, angry or just bitchy. Until I open my mouth and start reciting corny jokes.
That weekend was a little life-changing for me (don’t worry though, I still cried and had a mini panic attack when I noticed that my professor, who was in charge of printing out my posters, made a mistake. This happened literally 5 minutes before I was up- to me, it was more proof that unless I overlook everything myself, I’m doomed). It was during that weekend when realized that if I just let go of that need to control the outcome of every single situation, I can actually have fun. I don’t have to be in control, all the time. I can let go. I can relax.
Since then, I’ve learned to surrender. I’m not afraid of looking silly or embarrassing myself. I don’t need anyone’s approval or acceptance. The more I put myself in situations that are a bit (or a lot) out of my comfort zone, where I know I won’t be in total control, the braver I’m starting to feel. It hasn’t been easy though. Growing up, I heard “not good enough” too many times, and when you hear things like that over and over again, you eventually start to believe them. So, if that’s something you (or someone else) have been telling yourself for a while, maybe it’s time to tell a different story?
OVERCOMING PERFECTIONISM: STOP THE ALL-OR-NOTHING ATTITUDE
For perfectionists, there is no in-between. You’re either getting that 100% or you’re a complete failure. When I was in school, I couldn’t stand others doing better than me. I wasn’t happy with a 97% I wanted that 100% (105%, whenever possible). It’s sort of like when you start working out, or maybe you want to change your eating habits. You don’t work out for a day or two (because…. you know.. life) and you start feeling crappy. Or, you’ve been eating clean for a few days but you have a moment of weakness and end up eating junk food, and you think to yourself “well… now that I broke my diet, it makes no sense to continue it, I’ll just start again next week“. This is an all-or-nothing attitude, where you aren’t happy with just 80% or 90%. This is why perfectionists have a hard time acknowledging their own success- they always want to be and do better. And that’s when the anxiety comes in- you spend more time worrying about failing than you do focusing on what it is you’re trying to accomplish. The anxiety and the worry get in your way and make you miserable. It can literally suck the happiness out of your life.
Perfectionism can be a way of avoiding rejection and criticism from others or even from yourself. As much as you can try and control every aspect of your life, you can’t. This is why overcoming perfectionism, and ditching that desire to be perfect, is so important. You can’t always control or predict the outcome. Can you imagine how boring and dull your life would be if you knew exactly what’s around the corner?
A version of this post was originally published in June of 2016.