Are you happy being good enough or striving to be a perfectionist?
Perfect is a moving target, that’s if it’s even a thing. We are so quick and nonchalant in peppering our everyday conversations with the word “perfect”. That was a perfect meal. My son is a perfect student. I want a perfect relationship. Most of us were raised to be a perfectionist and were educated in schools that publicly rewarded the students who achieved the highest grades.
All this would be fine if we also taught our kids the dictionary meaning of perfection, and then let them decide if they want to pursue that path for the rest of their lives. Look it up for yourself, and you’ll be amazed by how extreme and results-focused the definitions are. Some definitions that stood out for me are, as good as it is possible to be, faultless, flawless, and without equal.
Thankfully, some wise person also added, “too good to be true”, but that one is easily lost amongst all the other shiny words like: unrivaled, unequaled and matchless. So,
What’s the problem with perfection and being a perfectionist?
According to Brene Brown, arguably the foremost expert on studies of perfectionism, “Perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction and life-paralysis”, – strong words that she backs up with a great deal of data-driven evidence.
One of the biggest problems with perfectionism, is many of us believe it’s the primary reason we have achieved any level of success. In truth, real success in any area of our lives is built on a foundation of time, attention, and of course, deliberate practice. There are no hacks. We can not strongarm, or guilt and shame our way to long term, sustainable success.
Perfectionism is a never ending, exhausting hustle to prove our worthiness, and most of us can’t keep it up past mid-life. One of the biggest drivers of the infamous mid-life crisis, is our lack of ability and desire to stay on this hamster wheel.
In my own life, I’ve experienced the high cost of this habit and did not even question its validity until it literally drove me to my knees. There was a time that I believed if I couldn’t do something perfectly, then I shouldn’t do it at all. That’s easy when we have only one or two things we need to manage, like school and a boyfriend, or work and a sport. But what happens when you finally build the life that you’ve been dreaming of?
The one that is rich and complex with all the things and the people. What happens when life throws curveballs – as it inevitably does – like divorce, single parenting, horrible bosses, and economic turndowns? That’s when our friend, perfectionism, shows us the other side of itself – a side that is nothing short of brutal.
In my early forties, I was navigating full-time single parenting, a full-time corporate job, a network of social as well as intimate relationships, running, and most importantly, never letting anyone see me sweat! In other words, not only was it imperative that I do everything perfectly, but also that I make it appear effortless.
As Brown says in her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, “Healthy striving is self-focused: How can I improve? Perfectionism is other-focused: What will they think?” Needless to say, it wasn’t long before I hit the ground – hard.
My first window into the possibility that there might be another option available, was presented to me when strolling the isles at Borders (when bookstores still existed) and seeing a book titled, “A Good Enough Parent”. What’s that, I thought? Is it even possible to be a good enough parent, and if so, why would anyone want to aspire to that? I almost felt ashamed for that parent, even though I couldn’t even imagine her.