Embracing Perfectionism

stone balancing on its tipI’m having one of those days when perfectionism hangs over me like a gray cloud. I look at all the things I have to do, and I’m filled with anxiety and dread. There isn’t time to do them all up to my standards, so I’ll either have to sacrifice quality, quantity, or both. Some projects will be rushed, some will be late, and some won’t get done at all. Meanwhile, the sun will continue to rise in the morning and set in the evening, and no one will care about my perceived failures but me.

I’ve been afflicted with perfectionism since I was a toddler, so I think it’s safe to say it’s woven into the fabric of my personality. It’s not something I can just get over. Rather, it’s something I have to learn to live with, like alcoholism or perkiness. (Seriously, who is that woman at Starbucks, and why is she talking in that chipper voice? Doesn’t she realize it’s morning?)

Perfectionism is the state of envisioning something so beautifully crafted in your mind’s eye that reality can never measure up. Like most things in life, it’s a blessing and a curse. It’s wonderful to have a rich imagination that drives you to work every day toward making your dreams a reality. But the achievement of them is always a bit of a disappointment. My accomplishments are never as shiny and pretty as I hoped they would be. So they don’t really feel like accomplishments at all. But isn’t that a silly and self-indulgent way to go through life? Feeling like your success isn’t good enough, because it doesn’t feel the way you thought it would?

I’m trying to embrace the good in my perfectionism—the drive to accomplish important things—and shake off the feeling that nothing will ever be good enough.

Thank you, Taylor Swift, for reminding us that when things don’t go as we hoped, the best thing to do is dance. 

The fact is, I have a good life, and most of my problems are in my head. So I’m going to try to be more patient and forgiving toward myself, which will hopefully make me more patient and forgiving toward others as well. Also, listening to voices other than the one in my head reminds me that there are many more important things going on in the world than whether I’ll have time to send out an email today, or whether it’ll have to wait until tomorrow.

And if no amount of rationality and positive self-talk can get me out of this funk, I can always dance.

Are you a perfectionist, too? What do you do on days when nothing seems to go as you’d hoped?

About AndreaJWenger

Andrea J. Wenger is an award-winning writer and editor in Raleigh, North Carolina. She specializes in the fields of creative, technical, and freelance writing.

Posted on January 28, 2015, in Blog Posts. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Hi Andrea! I love that video and just in case you didn’t see this version – I guarantee it’ll make you laugh.

    When you said: “The fact is, I have a good life, and most of my problems are in my head. So I’m going to try to be more patient and forgiving toward myself, which will hopefully make me more patient and forgiving toward others as well,” I had to clap.
    I have a real problem with seeing the things in my life as “problems” when, in the grand scheme of things, they are really more trivialities, you know?
    There are important things, then there are things that we perceive as important when they’re really not. That’s when we have to “shake it off”, right?

  2. Great reminder, Andrea, and I love Patti’s analysis. Becoming less “me-focused” helps me let things slide.

  3. Women especially seem to struggle with perfectionism. It stems from that “be a good little girl” that’s driven into us when we’re young. 🙂 I’ve actually dubbed this year as the year I get over myself, which definitely includes all of those perfectionist tendencies. Sometimes, Andrea, we just need to let things go.

  4. That’s an awesome video, Patti! I love how at the stop signs, he gets all professional as he waves to people, and then as soon as he starts moving again, he goes back to dancing. How fun! Thanks for sharing.

    Sheila, I agree that perfectionism is especially common in women, but my husband is as much of a perfectionist as I am. Fortunately, he actually is perfect most of the time. 🙂

  5. YES! I so relate. I’ve helped myself by remembering to breathe, by training myself (seriously, it took a while) to pull myself back for perspective, and working to maintain my inner peace, which is important no matter what other factors are at work (especially the frustrating ones). But I still get my panties in a wad from time to time.

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