Revelations of a Reformed Perfectionist

My name’s Georgia and I’m a perfectionist.

Or at least I was. However, a few years ago I realised that if I wanted to embrace the passions in my life I had to abandon my perfectionist streak. It was hard, or I should say, it is hard, because each day I have to remind myself that it’s perfectly acceptable not to be a perfectionist.

Growing up, much of the praise we receive is from when we do things well. I was well-behaved, I got good marks at school, I tidied my room – and the approval bestowed on me ingrained in my already A-type personality that this was the way things, or everything should be done – impeccably, faultlessly, excellently… perfectly.

Now, here’s the crucial flaw of perfectionism… it’s unattainable. Perfectionism implies expertise in everything you do but we all start as beginners at some point and if you’re too scared to show yourself up as a newbie then you’ll never step out of your comfort zone and try something new. How boring, right?

Recognising the contradiction that is perfectionism and changing your habits requires a great giant leap of bravery. It may sound like an exaggeration, but I believe ones obsession with perfectionism is akin to an addiction – and it’s bloody hard to kick.

Here are the key discoveries I’ve made on my journey to imperfectionism.

It’s OK to suck

Logically we all know we can’t be good at everything, but that doesn’t stop the Perfectionist from wanting to be.

I listened to a great podcast from Slow Your Home recently talking about how there’s joy to be found in just doing something even if you’re crap at it. A few years ago I went to Mexico to study Spanish, I let months pass me by too scared to speak the language because I didn’t want to use incorrect grammar or pronunication or get a word wrong. Of course, this was a vicious cycle; my Spanish was never going to improve because I wasn’t using it but I was too scared to use it because it wasn’t up to my perfectionist standards.

One night I was discussing this problem with a close friend’s father and he said something to me that really hit home (more on that later) and from then on I started speaking more and with less fear. And you’ll never guess, my Spanish improved! Haha. The Mexican boyfriend certainly helped too. And now, I can speak Spanish – I’m by no means perfect but I can communicate easily in Spanish and watch fabulous corny Mexican movies and Spanish telenovelas no problem.

Most importantly though, I achieved a life-long dream – to learn a second language. And that would never have happened if I’d let perfectionism get in the way.

Let others help you

We all know the old adage, “if you want something done well you’ve got to do it yourself”. 

For a perfectionist this means doing everything yourself! But that’s exhausting, and limiting. Once we realise that it’s ok to delegate a whole lot more stuff gets done, and most of the time it doesn’t matter it it’s not to a perfectionist’s standard. Let me let you in on a secret fellow perfectionists: the world won’t end.

If the carrots aren’t diced as finely as want, it’s OK, I’m sure the dish’ll still be delicious. If they bought the wrong brand of crackers to go with the cheese, you’ll deal. If they change the baby’s nappy and the diaper ends up on backwards, the baby will survive that ordeal. Now if you happen to be a heart surgeon or professional bomb disarmer, well, we’ll leave those tasks to the experts.

Don’t sweat the small stuff

As mentioned above, when others or even, heaven forbid, us perfectionists make mistakes, it’s not usually that big a deal. When you’ve left the house without your wallet so have to fork out the (figurative) cash for an Uber rather than catch the more economical and environmentally friendly public transport option, that’s not actually that big a deal – even though it may feel like it at the time.

It’s hard to get the perspective you need when small things in life hit a nerve, but if we can frame the issue with the bigger picture in mind, we can register its insignificance and see life beyond the email sent without an attachment.

I’ve heard it a few times and it works for me to ask myself – will I care about this “imperfection” in 5 years’ time? Or even 1 year’s time? If it’s a resounding no, let it go.

There’s a freedom to be found in being “mediocre”

When I was a child an aunty of mine gave me a great piece of advice; “if someone asks you to do something for the first time and you don’t want to, do it badly and they’ll never ask again!”. Haha. Well mini-perfectionist me was horrified (as was my mum) but I can see now how it had a lot of value. Not necessarily being horrible but even being only ok at something tends to gift you an invisibility cloak when it comes to that said something. And that’s liberating.

There’s no-one watching you so you can make mistakes with an abandon unknown to your more refined habits or activities that perhaps draw attention. Of course there’s an irony here – the freedom to make mistakes means you’ll almost inevitably get better and perhaps even breakthrough mediocrity and become good. That’s cool too – just remember to treasure the anonymity of your mediocrity while it lasts rather than wallow in it and get stuck there because of your inner-perfectionist naysayer.

Treat yourself as you’d treat your best friend

I mentioned in my first revelation about my close friend’s father, Manuel, that helped me embrace my Spanish learning experience; well he said something to me that made me realise how ludicrous it was to be judging myself so harshly.

I had been telling him that I didn’t want to speak in Spanish because I was worried people would think I’m stupid when I (almost certainly) would make a mistake, or, brace yourselves perfectionists, several mistakes – and possible in the space of one sentence!

Manuel said something then, he asked, “Do you think your brothers are stupid because they don’t speak Spanish?”

Immediately I answered, “No, of course not.”

He continued. “Then why do you think people will think you are stupid when you are attempting to communicate in a second language?”

Looking at it from this perspective changed things completely for me. By putting one of my loved ones in my position I could look at it with much more compassion and empathy – qualities I couldn’t apply to myself.

The same goes for many other situations – when I hear my inner-perfectionist berating me for not exercising today or because I forgot to bring my takeaway container to dinner or for not asking for no straw when I order my drink, I stop. I ask myself, would I talk to my bestie like that if she’d committed any of these supposedly unforgivable crimes? Obviously, I wouldn’t. So I try and resolve not to speak to myself like that either. It’s a work in progress but it’s very cathartic, to let yourself off the hook. It’s one of the lovely things about being a reformed perfectionist.

For all those perfectionists out there who have a dream but are too scared of failing to even start, let me tell you – it’s totally worth the embarrassment, the mistakes, the cringeworthy moments, to live a life filled with passion and meaning: a life outside of the perfectionist box.

Ps. Forgive any potential mistakes in this post – I’m not perfect, and that’s OK with me.

 

Are you are reformed perfectionist? I’d love to hear the amazing things you’ve achieved by quelling your perfection fears! Comment below! – xx

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