There’s a pretty big difference between someone who strives for achievement and success than someone who is looking to be a perfect person.
Someone who needs to be viewed as being perfect. A real perfectionist.
For the high achiever they are motivated by the satisfaction of hitting their goals and being successful in their endeavors. They strive for success for themselves, not to prove themselves to others.
Because of this nothing is ever good enough, achievements aren’t celebrated and life always feels unsatisfying.
Because when you live a life driven by failure avoidance and anything less than perfect is considered inadequate, you chase an unachievable goal.
To be a ‘perfect’ person.
In this article I’m going to hit you with a much needed reality check if you believe that this sounds a little like you.
Marla Tabaka wrote an article for Inc.com 8 Signs You’re a Perfectionist (and Why It’s Toxic to Your Mental Health). Do any of these sound familiar?
1. Despite your search for perfection, you never feel perfect.
2. You cannot accept and celebrate your success.
3. You don’t allow yourself any mistakes.
4. You put up a front, insisting everything is perfect.
5. You avoid taking on challenges that may cause you to fail.
6. You believe that your likeability is linked to being perfect.
7. Your life doesn’t satisfy you.
8. You struggle with getting things done on time.
To be completely transparent here, a few too many of the above resonate with me. I have spent years working on managing anxiety. And, I am pleased to say that I am in the best mental health than I have ever been.
But I have not ever, quite, gotten to grips with my perfectionism.
Perfectionism has been linked to anxiety and depression. And so being able to let go of the perfectionist in you may go a long way to providing anxiety relief.
THE PERFECT TEDDY
Look at him.
The poor teddy has an eye falling off, an arm hanging by its side, stuffing spilling out of it and various patchwork jobs from top to bottom.
This is not the ideal image of perfection, is it?
It would be easy to look at this teddy and imagine it thrown on the scrap heap. It’s not new and it’s in bad nick, it’s certainly not perfect. Let’s be honest here, neither you nor I would choose this teddy out of line-up.
Not when there are other new, fancy teddies that still have their bows tied around their necks and both eyes still firmly attached.
But, for someone out there this IS the perfect teddy.
It holds sentimental value. And perhaps it is the childhood friend for some young little girl out there with a full imagination and the company of her best friend to play with, teddy.
Or even better, the young man off to college who keeps teddy secretly hidden away in his University dorm. No-one can see it but he knows it’s there.
And it makes him feel safe. Reminding him of good times and the comfort of having a little piece of home.
Or, for a child who has nothing? I’d imagine they might consider this teddy bear the perfect gift from the parents who have all of the love to give but very little in the way of luxuries.
For this child, a teddy bear even in this condition could be loved and cherished as if it were the newest Teddy Bear in Liberty’s latest children’s toy collection.
The problem here, is in a box of toys you might feel as though you are the damaged teddy surrounded by fresh new toys that you feel are more desirable.
We always want to be the most desirable.
Why Some People Crave Perfection by Health Central explains why we might torture ourselves with the need to be ‘perfect’. We always want to be ‘MORE’. Or to be the ‘BEST’. We feel as though this is what we SHOULD be striving for.
Now imagine all of the things you feel about yourself that you try to hide. The parts of you that make you feel ashamed, that you hope no-one else recognizes in you.
Perhaps you want so badly to have someone else’s life, body, relationship and career. Because you feel as though they really have it all.
They tick all of the boxes that society tells you makes for the ‘best’ kind of person.
What you don’t see, is all of the flaws and insecurities this person feels in much the same way you do.
They too are battling with need to be seen as a ‘perfect’ person.
Have you ever tried to be perfect? It’s hard and it’s unachievable.
Perfectionism is not something to be admired. It takes a great deal of mental strength to overcome this cognitive distortion.
When I tell people I am a perfectionist I get this flush of red come across my face. I can see in their eyes that they believe that perhaps I’m trying to tell them that I’m ‘perfect’.
Nothing is perfect for a perfectionist and everything feels unachievable and subpar.
The want to strive for perfection is a damaging mentality to have and detrimental to making good progress in life. There is no gauge available to determine what the ideal image of perfection looks like so how can you possibly measure it?
Who gets to decide what ‘perfect’ actually is? We do.
Bombarded constantly with messages across social media telling us what we should like, want and strive for means that thousands upon thousands of people now believe that they are less than adequate as they are.
Suddenly, we have no appreciation for ourselves. We need to raise our emotional intelligence and become more self-aware and appreciative of the qualities we begin with.
To begin with, you must understand that everything you are shown on social media is only a half truth.
You are shown a snippet of someone’s life. A snapshot of a moment in their day.
You haven’t begun to even scratch the surface of what life really looks like for these people.
So I want to throw some hard truths at you. Said with love and kindness in the hope that you can see yourself for what you really are and drop this need to be seen as perfect.
Because there is no global scale for perfection you are putting an undue amount of pressure on yourself for no reason.
The people surrounding you love you as you are.
Your friends and family embrace your good and bad qualities because that is what makes you, YOU.
And more often than not, when we are wanting to be seen as being really great at something or looking our best or becoming a success unfortunately, too often we aren’t doing it for ourselves and we aren’t doing it for the ones closest to us.
We are doing it to get validation from those people out there who truly don’t matter.
Your friends and family have seen you at your lowest points, you already have their validation and their love.
It’s those loose acquaintances, the social media connections and the people who are only seeing a small portion of your life that you’re really seeking confirmation from.
Why? Because to have praise from a stranger holds more weight, when it shouldn’t.
These people owe you nothing. They are not obliged to give you praise for your successes. And so with backwards logic we appreciate their words of approval more than those of the ones closest to us.
We feel shame surrounding our flaws so we hide them. But those brief insights into those people’s lives that make you feel unworthy are not showing you the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
So here are some things I want you to keep in mind when you feel the urge for every little thing you do to be perfect in the eyes of yourself and everyone else.
And for those times where you’re feeling less than adequate.
Whether or not you feel as though you are the raggedy teddy in the box, to others you are perfect exactly as you are just like the young man going off to college and the little girl who has nothing but love for her teddy.
Let’s get started on changing your mind set surrounding the need to be perfect.
PERFECTION IS UNACHIEVABLE, SO DON’T EVEN TRY
‘Don’t even try?!‘ I hear you scream. ‘What kind of advice is THAT?’ You might wonder.
It’s pretty sound advice is what I say to that. Perfection is a non-existent, superficial standard that is entirely unachievable.
Why? Because ‘perfection’ is subjective.
What might be the image of a perfect body for me might be completely abhorrent to you. Much like art, perfection cannot be graded or clearly defined. Only the observer can decide for themselves whether they view it as something of value or not.
There is no ‘perfection spectrum’ or ‘gauge-o-meter’ for what classifies as being perfect so you are only chasing an imaginary goal.
You are placing a huge mental strain on yourself by trying to achieve the unachievable.
Strive for progress. Aim to reach your goals and be the best version of yourself that you feel you can be. But do not chase after an illusion.
The Problem with Perfection by Psychology Today explains very clearly how detrimental the idealization of perfection is to our mental health.
Because the problem with the idea of being perfect means that you can do all of those things – reach your goals and hone your skills but if you’re seeking perfection in these areas then nothing will ever be good enough for you.
You might be an artist with a sold out gallery opening.
But the need for perfection means that you weren’t happy with its success because you couldn’t offer champagne on arrival or buy the dress you wanted to wear that made you look fabulous.
Despite the fact that all but 2 of your paintings sold.
Or perhaps you are a fitness freak who has a body most people would kill for.
But because of your need for perfection you’re never truly happy with your physique despite it being only a dream bod for everyone else.
You spend your life in the gym, missing quality time with family and friends to get the body that you believe is ‘perfect’ and will make you happy.
Perfection is a fabrication of your imagination. And when you seek perfection in everything you do then nothing is ever good enough and nothing will make you feel content with your efforts.
When you drop the need to be perfect, you can start enjoying your achievements and celebrating the small victories.
EMBRACE FAILURE AND CARE LESS ABOUT JUDGEMENT
So, I mentioned previously that often times you might actually be seeking validation from the wrong people. The people that don’t truly matter to you.
But there is another catch-22 for the perfectionists of this world.
The need for perfection is often tied in with the fear of failure and this is where the problem lies . Because nothing lives up to the expectations of someone seeking perfection, everything becomes a failure.
And I believe this to be true for the reasons already discussed – it has more weight coming from someone who is not obliged to offer you praise.
So in a vicious cycle of self-deprecation, the perfectionist is destined to live a life of disappointment. And why is that? Because perfection is unachievable (worth re-iterating, don’t you think?)
Fear of failure and fear of judgement can often be what drives a perfectionist to live with unrealistic standards.
Standards that they hold themselves to as well as standards they think are expected of them by everyone else.
The truth is, failure will get you everywhere in life.
Your flaws are what make you unique and judgement from others will be given to you whether you ask for it or not.
So, in order to actually appreciate your successes even when they don’t quite meet your unrealistic expectations you must…
BE CONTENT WITH BEING AVERAGE
Believe it or not most of us are only ever very average and although it feels difficult to hear, it is not a bad thing.
There is only an elite few in the world who are truly masters of their crafts and undeniably brilliant at what they do and what they can achieve. So, what am I saying here?
If you lined up all of the people in the world starting from people who are incredibly unskilled to people who are average at most things to people who are incredibly SKILLED; then most of us would fall into that middle section.
Be content with being average and be OK with being a less than perfect person.
Many consider this to be the ‘true self’. Where you embrace and show to the world the entirety of of who you are including the ugly parts that you never hoped anyone would see.
That includes embracing your flaws, your insecurities, your failures, your weaknesses, your faults and everything in-between.
You can rid yourself of the persistent need to be seen as perfect when you can acknowledge that you, like everyone else, is anything but.
If you can change your perceptions and let go of the despair that comes from not being the ‘best’ then your successes will be more apparent and more enjoyable to you.
With that comes the freedom to try new things. Take on challenges. And aim for goals even when you fear that you aren’t going to nail it.
(Discomfort inspires progress and innovation. Staying safe, remaining ‘comfortable’ is where progress and creativity go to die. If you struggle making discomfort your ally then grab the free e-book below to get you started. Time to change your life for the better and make discomfort your ally.)
Some things you will always be really bad at. Most things you will do pretty well when you set your mind to it. And there will be rare moments where you truly excel at something.
Those moments will be all the more special when you can be happy with all of the things that take place in the middle, when things aren’t perfect and didn’t quite go according to plan.
STOP COMPARING AND BE INSPIRED
The quality of your life cannot be determined by the quality of someone else’s.
Jordan Peterson writes in such perfect words, ‘Compare yourself to who you were yesterday not who someone else is today’.
You can read more of Jordan Peterson’s words of wisdom in his book ‘12 Rules For Life: An Antidote To Chaos’.
This has a tendency to make us feel pretty poorly about ourselves and is unhelpful.
You can only measure your success and progress by comparing yourself to the you of yesterday. How far have you come? What progress have you made? Are you closer to your goals?
And no finer words have ever been spoken.
Comparing your life, achievements, successes, appearance and luxuries with that of someone else has zero benefit to you.
This is how you measure your progress in life.
It is so difficult to stop ourselves from scrolling through our phones and comparing ourselves with people who are entirely incomparable.
You are on a different path and a different journey. You must embrace it rather than wishing you were walking in someone else’s shoes.
This is the hand you have been given and that’s OK.
Your circumstances, backgrounds, connections, financial status and education are most likely entirely different.
With that, you must stop comparing yourself with others BUT it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be inspired.
Separate yourself from the feelings that you have for their successes and you will be able to use it to inspire you.
It’s funny because jealousy is an emotion that I’ll quickly touch on here. It is banded into the category of ‘negative emotions’ along with shame, fear and anger.
They are there as signposts, giving you feedback from any given moment or situation that allows you to respond accordingly.
But all of these emotions are incredibly necessary.
And in this sense they are helpful.
And this is why I will quickly touch on jealousy because this may well be an emotion that pops up and you try to hide when you look at the life someone else has and wish so badly that it was yours.
With this, you can allow people to inspire you to improve so long as you are not sitting in a state of self-loathing, comparing your life to the life of someone’s that you wish you had.
Jealousy is telling that you want something. They have it and you want it. And this is not something to be dismissed because you can use it to help drive you toward that thing that you want.
WORK ON THE THINGS YOU’RE GOOD AT
Everyone has strengths and weakness and how we think about them will determine how we move forward in life.
We can focus on our weaknesses and let them emotionally stunt us from ever making progress or we can try and improve on them so they become a strength.
Letting go of the desire to be seen as perfect, being content with failure and being average does not mean that you should stop any self-improvement.
It means letting go of the fear of judgement, acknowledging and appreciating every aspect of yourself (the good and ‘bad’) and focusing on making constant improvement without unrealistic expectations.
What I would suggest is working on those things that you are already pretty good at and focus your energy on honing those skills.
Like the high achievers, seek success and greatness for internal validation and be prepared to fail along the way.
High achievers are not perfect but they are willing to go through the pain and struggle of failure and judgement to achieve their goals.
This is why perfection must be dropped and your eyes need to be open to the understanding that your flaws are what make you who you are.
Your failures are what will get you to where you want to go and judgement from others says a hell of a lot more about them than it does about you.
Perfection is a myth.
Appreciate every aspect of yourself, just as your loved ones do, and celebrate the little victories even when they come with mistakes and failures along the way.