Is Being a Perfectionist Killing You?

“Am I enough?”

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It’s a question I ask myself constantly. Sometimes it’s about what I’m doing, the quality of my work, and oftentimes about who I am. My motto is “do it right or don’t do it at all.” A motto passed down by my dad whom I admire very much, and certainly have his genetic predisposition for quality and relentless hard work. Doesn't it sound bad right? I’ve certainly been noticed professionally and ended up with some great job opportunities because of it. The problem is that I looked at everything I did as a reflection of who I am. When I messed up, I would resent myself. It was a life of zero self-mercy. Which lead to total exhaustion and a pursuit of perfection.

I came to terms with my condition after taking the Enneagram personality assessment. (I am a 4/1 variable with a 3 wing in case you’re wondering). The assessment revealed that only perfectionists have an inner critic voice. That voice was one of the loudest voices in my life. It told me every time I wasn’t enough. When I just missed the mark, it led me to believe that other people expected me to live in this high-pressure world of having to be inhuman. Regardless of how extreme your pursuit of perfection goes, I think our culture of platforms and comparison has left us all struggling to achieve something that doesn’t actually exist.

Here are some ways perfectionism has affected me personally: 

Inner critic

I couldn’t believe that some people don’t have a voice in their head tearing apart everything they say and do. Pursuing perfection magnified comparison and fed my pride. It’s the kind of pride that has to put others down in order to feel better about yourself. I found that the things I thought about myself, were soon the things I thought about others. The ways I tore myself apart were the ways I was tearing other people apart. Even if it was just mentally, it oozed out in my attitude toward others and I'm sure was present in the vibe I carried.

Killing the critic

I came to realize that I could not love or show grace, patience, or respect for anyone if I wasn't showing it to myself. I firmly believe we are what we practice, and we have the most opportunity to practice within our own mind. The way I learned how to kill the inner critic was to ask myself if I would ever say what I was thinking about myself to someone I love. If the answer is no then I needed to find something kinder to say to myself.

Living in the grey

The biggest problem with perfectionism is living life in black or white. Things were either right or wrong, good or bad in my mind. Things are almost always more complicated than that and cannot be labeled. There are variables and for a perfectionist, they are incredibly frustrating. I've grown to look for the grey though. To step in other people's shoes and weigh every option and action. I also realized that by thinking things had to be either right or wrong, I was being judgemental. I’ve realized that anytime I’m judgemental, I’m usually wrong.

The biggest thing I learned was that perfectionism is rooted in shame.

Questions like “am I enough” and simply declaring something as right or wrong about myself all go back to a place of working my way to love, recognition, and worth. It’s simply not true. We get pressured by this hyper comparison culture to be not just our best self, but better than anyone else. Let me tell you that your best is enough. You may not have all the skills and talent you need right now, but you will. Needing to learn and grow isn’t a disability, yet we treat it as one. “I don’t know enough about that or how to do that so I can’t.” I don’t allow myself to use the C word anymore, and you shouldn’t either. Can’t is a cuss word in my world, because I am capable of doing anything I have a vision and desire for. Does that mean I will be able to do it by myself or in one shot? Absolutely not. Failure is part of true perfection. Any great leader will tell you the secret to their success was learning from their failures. Being committed to excellence is good, but don’t be too proud to fail in the process of perfecting your craft.

Join the conversation: What's one area of your life where you struggle with perfection? Is it striving for the perfect body, job or relationship? Maybe it's all of the above? Share your story with us in the comments below.