Perfectionism. What is it and how do we overcome it? That’s a vast question with many potential answers, but I think Brené Brown explains it best in just these few lines from her book The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are:
Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame. It’s a shield. It’s a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from flight.
What I like most about Brown’s perspective is that she challenges us to separate perfectionism from doing our best, which can be difficult when we’ve come to equate the two. We’re often convinced, either by ourselves or the world around us, that our best always has to be perfect. If it isn’t, then we’re surely a failure. Additionally, this fear of inadequacy is fed by the polished versions of other people’s lives we ingest daily via social media. We don’t see the mistakes or the pain or the obstacles others face behind the scenes. We only see the filters and the smiles and the things that make us say, “I wish I was as perfect as they are.”
That’s where that twenty-ton shield comes in. When we spend all our waking hours wishing we were perfect and doing everything in our power to be so, we become our own worst enemy. Perfectionism doesn’t allow room for mistakes that might lead us to a better path for our lives because it fears the disappointment and hurt that may come with it. Perfectionism sanitizes our authenticity because it fears to reveal our “messes” or our insecurities to an often judgemental crowd. Perfectionism convinces us that we can’t chase after our dreams until we are good enough because it associates failure with shame. Keep struggling under this weight and you’ll stunt your ability for growth.
I’ll add that, despite my seemingly confident words, I struggle with perfectionism on a daily basis. I’ve always been the type of person who wants to get something right the first time. But, if I’ve learned anything from life, it’s that I won’t always get something right the first time. I’ve chosen the wrong jobs. I’ve had to work hard at improving my skills. I’ve made a lengthy list of mistakes that have often come with hard lessons. I’ve needed to evaluate myself and make changes where necessary. You get the picture. Yet, through it all, I’ve never stopped trying my best.
Unlike perfectionism, trying our best means doing everything in our ability to succeed even if we know we might reach an unfavorable outcome. Personally, I think this provides a more refreshing sense of satisfaction at the end of the day. It feels more genuine. It also takes courage to put yourself out there even if things don’t go your way. The alternative is merely a diluted version of your true capabilities. That being said, I want to encourage you to get out there, try your best, and discover all the ways you can thrive once you let go of that shield of perfectionism strapped to your back. You’ll be so glad that you did.