I was 5 when I was first told I was a perfectionist
My kindergarten teacher told me I was a perfectionist because I’d become upset when I drew outside the lines of my turtle and asked for a new piece of paper so I could colour him in better. No deal. I was stuck with my first not-so-perfect turtle. Deep breath, 5-year old Cass, deep breath.
Then next time I was told I was a perfectionist was when I was 6, and it came from my horse riding instructor.
Then again, and again… until my entire identity was based on this premise (created by others) that I was a perfectionist and that this was somehow a bad thing.
The time it hurt the most was when I was on holiday with some girlfriends. I was in the pool with one friend, and I asked if she wanted to get out the pool and order lunch. I heard some of the other girls whispering and thought nothing of it, until later that afternoon when I somehow found out that one of the girls had been whispering about me, being a perfectionist. Because I was swimming in my “perfect bikini” (wow!) and then wanted to “order a perfect lunch” and apparently I did all this in an annoying perfectionist manner. Um. Ok. Bitchy friends aside, it’s only been in the last few years that I’ve realised being a perfectionist isn’t such a bad thing, when I don’t pay it too much attention.
Being a perfectionist is equally totally awesome and sometimes soul-crushingly difficult
But I wouldn’t change a thing.
Being a perfectionist means I do my best, at all times, no matter what situation presents itself. It means I do everything I can do to be the best naturopath, nutritionist and herbalist I can be, for you. It means I put my whole heart into everything I do. What’s so bad about that?
Being a perfectionist meant I was asked to do 4 unit English in HSC which allowed me to write an 8,000 word novella on the story of how my beautiful horse, Commander Joe, died when I was 15 years old. This helped me process what happened, even though it was several years later, and leaves me with a sense of pride when I think of Joe, rather than a sense of guilt and sadness.
Being a perfectionist meant I was taken on by the incredible Reload Agency as their first Australian hair and makeup artist when they opened their doors in 2009, just over 18 months after I set the goal of getting an agency. People told me it would take (on average) 4 years to find an agent, but I set a goal and did everything possible to get there. This gave me confidence in myself to launch my own biz (the very website you’re on) in 2011 at the tender age of 24. If I hadn’t proved to myself that I could meet my business goals and career dreams, I may not be where I am today.
But what happens when being a perfectionist backfires?
From personal experience and chatting to clients (many of whom are total perfectionists), I’ve discovered that the flip side of being a perfectionist is:
:: Fatigue, adrenal fatigue and burn out
:: Depression and moodiness
:: Creative blocks as you don’t know which is ‘the best idea’
:: Difficult in or inability to finish a project as you don’t think it’s good enough
:: Feelings of anxiety and panic
:: Not feeling good enough
:: Comparison to others
:: Comparison to your ‘ideal’ self and who you think you should be
:: Poor health because you’re always striving for more, and forget to look after yourself
:: Social anxiety because you never feel good enough in a room of people so prefer to interact in small groups
Psychologist and author Michael S. Broder says “The irony of perfectionism is that you usually end up performing worse, because you inevitably hit a wall, put yourself down, and then fail to do your best because of the self-generated negativity that follows.” (The Huffington Post). Ring true?
I think one of the best things to do when you’re trying too hard, or pushing too far, is to bring self-care to the forefront of your life
Stop what you’re doing and back away from it. Take some time to think about what you’re feeling (e.g. crushed, stressed, overwhelmed, pressured, angry?) and why you’re feeling this way – is it an internal pressure? Are you trying to please yourself or someone else? Is it just old habits coming into play?
Ask yourself what would happen if you didn’t place this pressure on yourself. Would the project still get completed? The answer is probably yes.
What would happen if you released the project now, before you think it’s ready? Understand that the rest of the world won’t see the tiny ‘mistakes’ you see, or know that it could have been anything other than what it is. No one will know the report was 1,200 words but is now 1,000. No one will know the blog side-bar was on the left and now it’s on the right, or that you wanted the paint colour ‘dune’ for your living room but they only had ‘eggshell’. No one will know but you, and only you will berate yourself for it. See where I’m going with this?
What are you trying to prove? What are you chasing? Why are you rushing? Your high expectations are yours only (most likely) and no one else in the world would even realise if you didn’t hit these goals you create for yourself. I’m not saying don’t create goals – I LOVE GOALS! (Jeez, that was the perfectionist in me speaking loud and clear) I know goals are totally important in creating a life you love. But… goal after goal after goal, deadline after deadline after deadline, moving goalposts daily, weekly, monthly… are you tired yet? Rest. Slow down. Catch your breath.
What will happen if you slow down? The world won’t fall apart, the sky won’t fall down, you will still be the same beautiful, successful and incredible person you are. But better, because you’ll be refreshed and calm and not racing-rushing-striving-pushing. You’ll be you, but a better version than your perfectionist self because your well will be full, and when you are full to the brim with self-care, self love and practices that make your soul sing, you’ll be more able to give back to yourself, and of course, give to others.
So finish that project, put down your pen or paintbrush, hit ‘publish’, take a break. It’s just all going to be ok.
Midday yoga class, anyone?
Photo credit: Pinterest