Where did we learn the message that we needed to aspire to perfectionism? We could blame the media but every element of our personal learning and life experience gears towards the ideal that perfectionism equals success.
If we think about our upbringing we are taught from an early age what is right and wrong. It is right to tidy to up and it is wrong to be messy. It is right to listen to our parents and it is wrong to be ignorant. It is right to do our best and achieve our maximum potential and it is wrong to slack. Our work is marked (often in red pen) and we are graded on our efforts. Does this mean the child receiving an A is better than the child earning a C, even though they both worked the same length of time and put all their effort in?
As we grow older, our college and University qualifications define our abilities and expand our opportunities in life. The person receiving the ‘perfect’ first class honours degree will potentially be viewed as ‘more intelligent’ than the person getting a third.
And what about our jobs? Salaries impact materialism which impact perceived success. How do we view the person earning the higher amount of money with a nice car, big house who goes on luxurious holidays every year? As much as we wish we didn’t, you can’t tell me we don’t look at that person thinking ‘wow, perfect life, wish I had that too’.
Yes, the media has a huge impact. Lets look at the lives of celebrities. We are constantly dominated with net worth and how money can seemingly buy happiness. We see skinny bodies as a result of expensive personal trainers, pre-prepared diets and pound signs, all surmounting to the ‘perfect’ body image.
If our life experience programs us to aspire towards perfectionism why aren’t we all loving life, earning top dollar and swanning around bursting with pride and achievement?
Because we forgot one thing.
We are all human and humans aren’t perfect. We are programmed by a message that is in fact, a lie. When we think of it like that we should kind of be annoyed that society has taught us a flawed way of thinking?
Does giving 100% mean being the best or does it mean doing your best and being satisfied with the results?
Eight years ago I thought the first but now, I’ve been re-programmed to think the latter.
I worked my arse off throughout school and University and my parents pushed me to do the best I could. My mum praised me to build me up and whilst my dad did the same, he often scribbled over my work and tried to make it ‘as perfect’ as he could. They were just trying to be good parents and I get that.
Along the road I built up a picture that in order to be successful in life I had to be ‘somebody’ but I didn’t know who that person was. I was never satisfied with anything I achieved, from my University degree to being a career driven woman working in marketing on global brands. Still not enough. I’m not sure what it would have taken to indicate I was that ‘somebody’. I never stopped to enjoy the fruits of my work because my brain was always focused on what was next.
What is perfect?
How on earth could I have obtained a perfect life when I had no picture of what I wanted to be or do in life? It’s like taking a journey to no man’s land. Where are you going? How long will it take? How can you enjoy the surroundings when all you can do is focus on a destination that doesn’t exist? What a traumatic journey!
If you throw life experience, the never feeling good enough and the personality traits of a sensitive, people pleasing, perfectionist girl – I was up against it.
It took a major break down and a big crash on the time line of life to make me realise I had been barking up the wrong tree for a long time. After a stress load of work, relationships and depression I developed an eating disorder which snowballed into a diagnosis of bipolar. My first admittance to a psychiatric hospital introduced me into the world of therapy. It enabled me to offload to a non judgemental, caring person who guided me towards understanding myself and my actions and how I could change behaviour patterns to help myself through life.
One of the first eye openers was learning that being a perfectionist hindered your life.
I thought of all the things I’d been too afraid of to do in case of failure. My need to be my best had kept me from making decisions, changing relationships and following my dreams. I learnt one thing amongst many that will forever stick in my mind.
Eighty percent IS good enough.
Is it? I hear you say. Well here is my example. I remember wanting to send an email years ago to some editors about my writing but my fear of failure along with my perceived imperfections paralysed me to the point I never sent anything. Post therapy I started writing again and instead of over analysing anything I just wrote from the heart and threw myself into it’s creative content. I read it a few times and instead of crippling myself over editing it for every typo, I just stopped. I then wrote an email to some pretty important editors, checked it over once, attached the document and sent it out. Simple as that. And guess what? I re-read the email again afterwards and found there was a mistake. But…..I just thought ‘I did my best’ AND I got two replies from people interested in my work. My email hadn’t been perfect but the motivation to do it and get it out there had succeeded over everything. It wasn’t carelessness, it was just letting go and getting on with it. My words were good enough and spoke for themselves.
I have no interest in attempting to be ‘perfect’ any more. If we relaxed, followed our hearts, lived in the moment and worked to eight percent there is time to breath and enjoy. Imperfections are attractive and the little idiosyncrasies we each try to hide are the memorable bits we should embrace. In fact a huge weight of pressure has been lifted off my shoulders and the constant comparing to everyone else and indulging in a fairytale (which we all know sounds amazing but hey, Cinderella isn’t real) is just that – a nice story that should be appreciated but not deemed reality. I’ve read this piece a few times and edited it but now I’m done. I’m confident it’s meaning will override any commas I’ve put in the wrong place. 🙂 x
Don’t grin and bear it. Share it.
Specialist eating disorder support resources:
GP is first port of call and referral to an eating disorder specialist OR Google local specialist support centres
- b-eat.co.uk – National eating disorders website with fantastic support in terms of helplines for both adults and youths and online support forums.
- http://mengetedstoo.co.uk/ – For men with eating disorders
- IAPT (Improved access to psychological therapies) – google IAPT in your area for free support resources
General mental health support resources:
- livinglifetothefull.com – online cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) website
- youngminds.org.uk – with parents/carers helpline
- amazon.co.uk ‘Madly Seeking Sanity’ – Lola Jane
- http://www.samaritans.org/ – The Samaritans are a non-judgemental ear where you can talk confidentially about anything