Trying to Be Perfect

“Nothing important, or meaningful, or beautiful, or interesting, or great, ever came out of imitations. What is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.”
~ Anna Quindlen from Being Perfect

I’d never thought about myself as trying to be perfect until one day a couple of years ago in my most uptight and angry phase, my Mom who was down visiting said, “You know, you don’t have to be perfect.”

Oh. Ok.

And in the manner that typically plays out between mother and grown daughter I thought, wow is she off the mark. But it sat there and it marinated and I came to have a little deeper insight on it. I realize now that there are two different kinds of perfectionism. I had not recognized that the tune I was dancing to was one of them.

The first kind of perfectionism
The first kind of perfectionism is the kind we all think about. The “keeping up with the Joneses” variety. You do everything you can to have the right clothes, drive the right car, you keep your life immaculate looking from the outside. Appearances and presentation, are very important to you. Not to be held in high esteem in every facet of your life is a fate worse than death. You strive for perfection in every area; the way your children look and behave, your spotlessly clean house, you are miss manners, and above all you strive to make it all look easy, neat, tidy, and stylish.

The second kind of perfectionism
…is my kind of perfectionism. The kind of perfectionism in which you are both the Jones family and the one trying to keep up. By that I mean, you are your own tyrant. You don’t look outside of yourself as much for what you should be or do. You set your own standards, typically just outside of what is attainable, and then you break your neck every day trying to meet your own expectations. And here’s the real bitch. Even if you do meet those expectations? If you are breathless, uptight, grouchy, or feel like bursting into tears, you are still disappointed with yourself. Why can’t you just do this and do it right? Why are you such a mess? But of course you’re probably not a mess. You’re just a person. Doing a good job. Doing a lot. Meeting a lot of demands and stretching yourself to grow every day. No you’re not perfect. You never will be. That’s the point.

Trying to be perfect is a way of punishing yourself. A way to ensure that you get to remind yourself at the end of each day how you didn’t measure up. And most of all, in trying to be perfect we often miss out on the big picture because perfectionism snags on the details, missing the forest for the trees.

Any of this sound familiar?

Other Posts
Your Self Esteem; Why those little dings really are a big deal
I Knew Myself So Long Ago
Are You Waiting for Life to Begin?
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4 Responses to Trying to Be Perfect

  1. Mara Rose says:

    This is my work on myself: Cultivating self compassion and a belief in my innate worthiness. You described the issues very well. I believe they are the roots of so much of our stuck-ness and poor self care.

  2. Lindsey says:

    Um, yes. Eerily familiar, in fact. I still haven’t really figured out how to fix this spiral, though, so I look forward to learning from you when you do!

    • Kathryn says:

      Oh I wish! Not sure I’ll be getting there any time soon but I’ll certainly be chugging along by your side, eyes wide open, trying to relax into it, because as Mara says I do think it’s a major force holding us back. Especially women. And there is a lot of being great to get on with! Which I think only really comes after giving up on the pointless tail chasing of the perfect.

  3. Perfectionism is definitely counterproductive. It’s always good to seek to improve…but you can’t lose yourself in the quest for perfection. Nice post!

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