The need to be perfect is something that I have battled with throughout my entire life, and now, as I move into my adult life, I still find its presence. Perfectionism is something I spend quite a bit of time thinking about, since it affects me so heavily in my decisions and my goals.
Because it crosses my mind more than not, I decided to look into it.
This definition makes perfectionism sound positive and productive, like it rids of us things that are less than exemplary and pushes us towards greatness. While that may be the goal of being perfect, thats not quite how I feel perfectionism in my life.
How does the need to be perfect affect you in your life?
If you’re anything like me, then you feel perfectionism as a trait in your personality that makes you strive towards excessively high performance standards, topped off with overly high critical self-evaluation and concerns of how others view us.
If I had to define the “perfectionism” I know, it would be the trait that you’ll never be good enough. This thing that is supposed to make me strive towards being more productive often comes in feeling like there’s always something more; something more I should be doing, thinking, and accomplishing.
This idea of being perfect makes me believe that other people judge me at the same excessively high standard as I judge myself. This comes in all forms of my life. For instance, when I was in school, I needed to graduate with honors. When I was working, I needed to work three jobs while in college. When I was skating, I needed every jump I attempted to be perfect. When I take a picture, I need it to be perfect, although in my standards, it never is.
All of these, completely irrational. How can you be successful without the opportunity to get better? You can never be perfect at the start. What even is perfect? I know im not the only person who experiences all that comes with being a perfectionist and how it affects all that you do.
This is not a how-to, because I don’t have the answers, but rather a reflection of how I’ve experienced the battle with perfectionism and a collection of my thoughts on needing to be perfect. If you’re a perfectionist, maybe you can relate to some of this feeling in these areas:
Perfectionism and Studying
For as long as I can remember, I have had to be perfect when it came to my grades. It was never my parents expecting me to graduate with honors, receive strait A’s or get into the best schools; that was all me.
I crammed for exams, did homework at every open schedule slot, and was no stranger to late nights and early mornings. I applied to 10 colleges during my senior year, afraid that I wouldn’t get into any, and wouldn’t pick the right one. Needless to say, I got into all of them, and ended up with a difficult decision on my hands.
Why though? Why did I feel this pressure to be perfect in my studies? Why do you? Perhaps, having a specific pressure point to blame makes it easier if you fail.
Perfectionism and Sports
My sport, if you didn’t already know, is figure skating. Maybe you’re watching the Olympics right now, if so, you’re getting a little taste of that complex world.
Being a perfectionist has its perks in this sport, but also many downsides. For me, if perfection wasn’t guaranteed (which it never is), there’s a high chance I wouldn’t try or I would second guess myself.
This affected me so much in practice and then in competition. If a jump didn’t feel perfect, I would hesitate into it or I wouldn’t go for it at all. Why? Because I didn’t want to mess up? But consistency and betterment doesn’t come from bailing, it comes from the attempt and repeated practice. I know that now, and I knew it then, but the need to be perfect was greater.
I was what people call a “mental athlete”. Physically, I was trained, but mentally, that was my biggest battle. As much as it pushed me be to be better, it equally held me back. This is self-sabotage. As many competitors as I had, I was in fact, my own worst enemy. We make up excuses for why we can’t give something everything we’ve got, because nothing is worst than trying your hardest and not succeeding. These excuses that we make can be extremely convincing, whether its we don’t have enough time, don’t have enough money, this or that; they can all be convincing.
My problem, and what I’ve found is a problem with other perfectionists, is that if perfection doesn’t seem possible, we will look for something to blame. In our minds, it is better than not being good enough.
Perfectionism and Social Media
In a world that isn’t anywhere near perfect, but always appears as such on social media, how do you fit in? How does someone that needs to be perfect begin to measure up? I feel like my Instagram feed needs to be perfect, which means that it doesn’t actually reflect my real life or who I am on the day to day.
This is not to say what I post isn’t true. It’s just more so that everyone including myself is editing out the things in life that aren’t their best. Photos that aren’t usually beautifully composed are edited and filtered to things that fit the Instagram aesthetic.
Perfectionism makes me want to be someone I’m not on social media, someone better. But the unfortunate thing, is that I am perfectly happy with who I am in real life. The problem, is that everything in the day to day, isn’t necessarily aesthetic or beautiful. My life, like others, are a combination of good and bad, and doesn’t always yield the “Instagram look”.
More to come on this topic in a coming post. But for now, how do you feel about being perfect in comparison to social media standards? How do you deal with that?
For me, its not necessarily that I act different or lie about who I am by any means. But it makes me even more critical of myself than I already am because I believe others are judging me at this high standard.
Perfectionism and Pride
I don’t know about you, but for me, the inability to be satisfied with anything less than perfect is a sense of pride. Some people say this is a good thing – to shoot for the best and then what you attain will still be better than great. However, for me, if I aim for perfection and fall short, I am disappointed. Holding myself to those incredibly high performance standards is self-sabotage and its crippling to my ambition.
But, I am getting better.
I used to only want to attempt things that would ensure 100% that I would be successful. But, I realized that it yes, it means I won’t fail, but it also means I won’t succeed. Skating helped me realize that. There are times that I would train my best and fall short and then there were times that I would succeed. If there are ambitious goals, there is a possibility for success. And, with no goals, well, that confirms no success.
So I am slowly learning to be better. What about you? What does perfectionism look like for you and how does it affect you in the everyday? Let me know in the comments!