Confessions of a Recovering Perfectionist

If you’re picking up where you left off on my IG page, just scroll down a paragraph, and you’ll be there 🙂

A week ago, I came across a statement that rocked my world.

I’ve never related to anything more. Even as I type out this caption, I’m tempted to [backspace] rewrite [backspace] again, make it better. Explain myself more thoroughly, but shorten it up. Make it catchy… and I won’t I won’t do that anymore.

My life has been one disciplined journey after another, and I’m beyond grateful to have developed such a sense of commitment and follow-through. But at what point is it enough?

Here me out… Once you meet your goal, you should celebrate, right? But how many of you look back to see how you could have done it better?

I’m talking to my A+ students here, the ones that could not possibly settle for just completing the assignment and getting an “A” or God forbid you settle for a 98% when 100% was the maximum amount of points you could have earned.

I’m talking to my athletic friends who won the game, but all you can think about is the shot you missed.

… to my pageant friends who are determined to hit all their marks, including their dietary goals. But, you’ve already hit them, and now you just want to see if you can go a little further. It sounds kind of like this, “You’ve already lost the weight, great. But I wonder what would happen if you pushed a little harder, like cut back a little more. I bet you could be even more perfect.”

I’m talking to the perfectionists.

Hi there, if you’ve come here through IG, welcome back 🙂 Haven’t blogged in a while. 2020 happened, and grad school, and to be honest, I wasn’t doing that great at producing “perfect content,” so I pressed pause until I felt like I had something to say. If you’ve somehow come here through other means, maybe you followed me before? Or you stumbled across the blog today, welcome! I’m glad you’re here too 🙂 I’ll give a quick background to catch you all up, and then let’s take a dive into the world of ultra-perfectionism to discover how self-love allows for room to improve.

Background:

  • former athlete: like not the best, but I played every sport offered in middle school and the first few years of high school
  • former pageant girl: pretty explainable
  • former singer : I cringed typing that. I’m in no way, shape, or form a singer. I haven’t performed on stage in well over 10 years, but I did take years of voice lessons, and this was my “talent” when competing in talent-based pageants. Do church choir and music competitions still count?
  • and alas, hopefully, a former perfectionist: we’re still working through this one. It’s kind of a new thing for me…

Everyone knows a perfectionist. You either are one yourself, you’re married to one, have one in your family or friend group, but bottom line, you know exactly what I mean when I say a perfectionist. It’s the one who doesn’t settle for less, works super hard, maybe calls themselves “goal oriented”, you probably call them “super organized”. They have a reputation of having all their ducks in a row, and to be honest, the probably come off a bit up tight and controlling. Am I right? I can say that, I’m preaching to the choir right now.

Here’s a few things about perfectionism.

  • It seems like an okay thing. I mean, for crying out loud, how can being an organized, disciplined goal crusher be a bad thing?
  • It’s incredibly unfulfilling. Because there is no “met goal” that ever satisfies the need to really be amazing.
  • It can negatively affect your relationships. When a perfection sets the bar so high that they can barely reach it, imagine the bars they set for other people, spouses, children, friends.
  • It’s an uphill, never ending battle. Bottom line, being a perfectionist means working towards improving yourself, even after you’ve met all of your goals.

I should probably stop here… I know I’m making this sounds so depressing and maybe even like a “feel bad for me” cry out, but I swear to you. That’s not what this is. Continuing on…

  • It can be a vicious cycle. For those of us who are perfectionists that tend to dabble in self-care, you know exactly what I mean. You meet your goal, you try to “treat yo’self”, and you lie in a beautifully (and exhaustingly) aesthetic bubble bath bored our of your mind because you aren’t working towards a tangible goal.
  • Some even say, it’s self-abuse, which if you’re not remotely self-aware can sound absolutely insane because what’s abusive about making yourself the absolute most perfect version of yourself?

Okay, I think I’m done. You get the point. It’s not all bad, and none of it is with an ill-intent. It honestly, starts out all fun and games, until one day… you’ve accomplished everything you’ve ever set your heart to, and you’re still not satisfied with yourself.

I’m hoping we’re passed the “it’s called ambition, lady” part of this breakthrough. I am all for being ambitious, having goals, and trying your very best. I’ve been all about that for other people my whole life! But for me, it wasn’t try your best… it was “be the best.” No matter what, be the best. Be perfect. Even if you don’t feel like it, you better look like it, sound like it, and act like it.

Let’s get to the good part.

Flip this journey around. I think we can all agree that perfectionist behaviour involves some pretty toxic traits. There’s not much to disagree with there. Pushing yourself passed your goal onto another goal due to a projection of required perfectionism is toxic. Period. Developing an inability to accept compliments or praise, not because you are humble, but because yeah, you won the thing (whatever it is) but you could have done better… yeah, that’s toxic too.

So, where do we go from here?

You’re sitting there, embarrassed or defensive (or not relating to any of this at all), and you’re wondering where we go from here. You obviously (we obviously) can’t just throw all of our self-discipline out the window and stop working towards anything at all, because well, that would be stupid. That would be incredibly foolish and waste everyone’s time, especially yours. No time for us to throw it all away, instead, let’s learn how to keep the discipline that matters and release what has no place in our lives.

Example:

Your New Years Resolution. (or since it’s 2021, and we all do “words of the year” now, your word) Mine is “unwavering”. It’s kind of a deep one, but I’ll keep it short. Basically, I don’t want to cut out soda this year or run 10000 miles before 2022, but I do want to become a better person, specifically in the way that I support those around me. I want to be an unwavering wife, daughter, friend, sister, etc. I want to hear God speak, and move into action immediately without any wavering or hesitation. I want to step up when called, serve when needed, and humbly listen when instructed.

This kind of resolution or word isn’t something I can just cross off a list… Oh that’s right, it’s a goal, but I can’t just be like “ooooo done!” Nope. It’s a bit deeper than that. It’s something I’m trying to practice everyday, and when faced with a trial, I’ll ask myself, “are you being unwavering?” and I usually find the resolution to my situation.

Let’s circle back to that list comment.

I will never [and I repeat]… I WILL NEVER NOT BE A LIST PERSON. Period. Never. I will always use lists because they are useful, and they alleviate the space in my head that is taken up by things like a grocery list or a projects around the house list…. Lists are good.

They can also make you crazy.

At the beginning of this week, I went through my notes app in my iPhone and deleted over 100 lists I had typed out at some point in time. Shopping lists, self-improvement lists, school work lists, work work lists, different blog posts and social media prompts…. I’m not kidding you guys, I had a list for everything. You might know this about me already, but I like to know things. Knowledge is power and yada yada, so I make lists of things I want to know about, and then I research them. But let me be very clear when I say this next part. These lists, though they may be interesting, are not going to satisfy any of my hearts desires, and I know that. As soon as I’m done with a list, I cross everything off and toss in the trash. Because it is now garbage.

That is how a perfectionist thinks.

Your completed “to do” list is trash. It is a thing that belongs in the garbage (or recycling depending on your lifestyle)… That’s some perspective, and I’m sure there’s a metaphor in there somewhere. These things we are trying to accomplish, are they trash? Do they matter? Are we actually going to be satisfied when we complete them? Because if not, we need to re-evaluate them.

Now, don’t re-evaluate the grocery list. I mean, ya gotta eat.

But maybe the shopping list could use a little tune up. Can I be real and admit I had a list of “staple clothing pieces” that I wanted to add to my closet… Like yes, this is a good thing if I were building a capsule wardrobe, but that’s not what I was doing. I was trying to be boujie and make sure I had all the staples… so that I could know in my heart that I had done the thing and secured the staples. That’s it. Like give me a cookie, I did that. How incredibly unimportant was that list? …

Now, that I pick myself up from the embarrassment of that last paragraph… I know. How incredibly self-centred and materialistic of me. But what about the other lists? All the lists of how we’re going to lose weight and our good foods and bad foods, and the 50 days of this, that, and the other that we plan to change in our lifestyle to finally be the [insert your desired clothing number]. These lists need a revamp too, and ya’ll that’s a whole series of posts, but we have to get it together. Be healthy. That’s it.

Perfectionists struggle with that though. It seems so normal, and for whatever reason, perfections believe that they are not allowed to:

  • Do the bare minimum 
  • Meet the requirements (only)
  • Be average/normal
  • Complete the exam (without the extra credit)

When you get right down to it, and it pains me to admit this, it’s ego. It’s also fear, which sucks more.

I recently had a good laugh because I overheard a comment being said about me (behind my back, because of course those are the best). But this chick was going on and on about how “Lindsay is so competitive. She just has to be perfect all the time.” and ya know… here’s the thing. She wasn’t right, but she wasn’t wrong. I do not compete with other women. I don’t. Period. I stay in my lane, I honor your process, and I will always pull up a chair for you to have a seat at the table. That’s just who I am. But come hell or high water, I will compete with myself until the cows come home… I have demanded perfection from myself since I was a child! It’s who I’ve been for so long, that it really taking a lot of self-awareness to even recognize that it’s a problem… and I even think in the back of my head, as I type this, am I doing this because I want to be more perfect, or is this real and I’m actually trying to overcome this whole being a perfectionist thing???

The struggle is real. I hear you.

But, welcome to the journey of the recovering perfectionist, and if that’s you, let me pull up a chair. I truly believe that there is more to life than exceeding goals, being the absolutely best, and making sure that everything all the time is always perfect. I know you do too, or else you wouldn’t have read this far. At the core of that perfectionist spirit of yours (and mine), is a little bit of fear. It’s the fear of not being perfect. The fear of messing up, being criticized, being average, fill in the blank. I know one of my biggest *unsaid* fears is not living up to my potential, and that’s why I’ve tried so many different things and given it my all every single time. I’m also absolutely terrified of failing. But, I would rather fail than quit because I was raised better than that. What I have to learn though, is that failing is failing. Failing is not being average, doing my best (even if it’s not the best in the class), or simply meeting the requirements.

Goals that are met *instead of exceeded* are not failures.

Let’s learn to normalize *in our own lives* the act of completing the task well and doing our best without killing ourselves to make it happen. Let’s learn how to take breaks that don’t involve self-loathing. And seriously, can we learn how to truly celebrate the little victories in a truly authentic way that doesn’t involved fireworks? Let’s change the rules of this game entirely.

I dare you, to allow your best to be enough.

xx

– the Wife

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