Overcoming Perfectionism

How perfectionism only feeds our inhibitions

by George

I’m a bit of a perfectionist. I like to make sure that everything I do is done to a high standard, especially things that are my own, personal work, such as my writing. This has its pros and cons; on one hand, it means that generally, the work I do is quite good by most standards, yet on the other hand, it often means spending hours niggling over small details that overall don’t make that much difference. It’s partly for this reason why it took much longer than expected to finish my novel!

Perfectionism manifests itself in much more than just work, however. We also see a need to be perfect, or at least to appear as such, in social situations, on social media, or when trying new things. Most of us are unconsciously striving towards some form of standard or ideal inside our own minds simply as we go about our everyday lives.

During a weekend course called The Landmark Forum that I did in 2017, I remember very clearly something that was repeated constantly during those few days: that the fundamental concern of every human being is striving to look good, and to avoid looking bad. If we really shine the spotlight onto this, we can see that it plays out everywhere, and with almost everyone in our lives – we are all going around trying to look good in some way, and trying to avoid looking bad. We try to portray this image of perfection so as to meet this ‘need’ to look good.

This does come at a cost, however. Constant striving towards so-called perfection often leads us to become inauthentic in some way. This is especially evident in social situations and on social media – what we see is rarely what is actually going on in someone’s mind, or in their lives. We say and do certain things to give off a particular impression that fits, or ‘looks good’ in the given circumstances, and we tend to avoid doing or saying things that would have us look ‘bad.’

Another issue with perfectionism is it can stop us from trying new things. For example, for a long time I really wanted to try stand-up comedy, but was scared that people wouldn’t find me funny. A tug of war ensued in my mind for more than a year – part of me wanted to give it a go, but another part didn’t want to end up looking like a fool. In other words, the perfectionist in me was so worried that I wouldn’t ‘get it right’ and would end up looking a complete idiot. Finally I recently gave it a go, and people actually laughed!

The final issue with perfectionism I’d like to highlight, is what really is perfection anyway? Who defines what actually constitutes perfection? Often, the standards that we’re trying to live up to don’t originate in us, but instead come from society’s, or some other person’s, ideals which we then internalise and try to emulate. This is not only false (as in, it is not true for us) but very tiring.

Even a flower that has lost some of its petals can still call itself perfect.
This flower isn’t perfect, but it’s still beautiful!

If you identify as a perfectionist, the first thing I’d recommend is to examine where you are trying to live up to false standards and ideals. Who do you think you have to be, or what do you think you have to do in certain situations? You might, for example, believe that you always have to be nice to other people, no matter what. Or that you always have to wear make-up. These could be standards that you have. Or perhaps, you believe you always have to show a happy face to the world. Or that you have to be a “real man” or woman (whatever these mean!). Question whether these standards and ideals are really true for you.

When it comes to tasks, and trying new things, go for good enough instead of perfection. Perfection, as you may have already gleaned, is an illusion that only exists as an intangible concept in people’s minds. If you aim for at least good enough in all that you do, not only will you complete everything to a high standard, but will spend far less time scrutinising every little detail.

The next thing I’m about to say might come as a bit of a contradiction given what I just wrote about perfection being an illusion, but we are actually already perfect. We already have everything we need to be the people we’re meant to be, and what we don’t we can learn. Nothing in life is a coincidence. All the skills we have, all our talents and abilities, are all here to serve us in doing what we’re meant to be doing here. Of course, we make mistakes, but that’s part of being human.

What’s important here is giving up other people’s (and society in general’s) ideals of perfection, taking the mask away from our eyes and seeing the truth of who we actually are, and what’s truly important for us as individuals. When we are able to do this, slowly we will peel away the veneers of inauthenticity until only our true self remains. We can then set healthy standards for ourselves that come from a place of truth and authenticity. When we can give up our need to be ‘perfect,’ whatever that really means, not only can we bring our true selves and talents to the fore, but we can live a much richer life! To read more about bringing more authenticity into your life, check out Jack’s post here.

If you’d like to share your own story about dealing with perfectionism, we’d love to hear it. And of course, please share this article if you found it useful!

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