How To Deal With Perfectionism In Your Twenties


Is perfectionism ruining your twenties? Read to discover how perfectionism affects the way you exercise, study, blog, use social media and more.

Perfectionism is interesting.

It’s something I spend a lot of time thinking about and it’s something that affects almost everything I do.

So I decided to have a little look into it.

But this blog post isn’t a how-to.Β It doesn’t have answers (because I don’t know them). It’s just a collection of my thoughts based on my experiences as a perfectionist.

Google tells me perfectionism is the refusal to accept any standard short of perfection.

I quite like that definition. It makes perfectionism sound positively productive – like all it does is help us get rid of the shit in our lives and surround ourselves with things that are perfect.

Unfortunately, that’s not the perfectionism I know.

The definition on Wiki is a little more accurate: ‘a personality trait characterised by a person’s striving for flawlessness and setting excessively high performance standards, accompanied by overly critical self-evaluation and concerns regarding others’ valuations’.

Now that’s more like it.

The perfectionism I know makes me believe I’ll never be ‘good enough’.

It makes me believe that there’s always something more. More I should be doing. More I should be thinking. More I should be saying.

The perfectionism I know makes me believe that what other people think of me matters more than what I think of myself.

It makes me believe that everyone else is holding me to the same excruciatingly high standards that I hold myself to, and that there’s no way I could possibly be measuring up.

I know I’m not the only one who experiences all that comes with being a perfectionist – how it affects the way you exercise, the way you study, the way you blog, the way you use social media and so many other things.

If you’re a perfectionist, I have a feeling you might be able to relate to some of these:

Perfectionism and exercise

If you’re a perfectionist like me, it’s quite likely you’ll only do something if you know it’s going to be perfect. Which is great in one sense – it means that when we do things we do them really, really well.

But it also has its downside.

If perfection isn’t guaranteed, or isn’t likely, then there’s a high chance we just won’t try at all.

Or if we think it might not be perfect, we self-sabotage. We make up excuses for why we can’t give something everything we’ve got (because nothing is worse than trying really hard and not succeeding, it’s better to just not try at all).

These excuses can be convincing – not enough time, we don’t know where to start, we don’t have anyone to exercise with – but they’re usually not the real reason we’re not exercising.

We want to be perfect. And when we think that perfectionism isn’t possible, we look for something to blame. We need a reason for why we didn’t succeed that doesn’t have anything to do with not being ‘good enough’.

An example of this? My attempts at Kayla Itsines’ Bikini Body Guide (BBG).

When I’m doing it, I’m really doing it. I do every single session I am supposed to and I do them even if I really, really don’t feel like it – I don’t want to ruin my perfect track record.

And then life happens, and I miss a session.

And then that’s it, I’m not doing BBG anymore – at all. I can’t handle not having a perfect record so I just stop completely, even though that makes absolutely no sense at all.

I’ve gotten a bit better at managing a bump in the road but I still struggle with it. I just try to take it day by day.

Perfectionism and study

Where can I start with perfectionism and study? There is so much to say.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve crammed for exams. I’ve done more all-nighters than I can count and always leave the major portion of my study until the very last minute.

I didn’t do this because I was disorganised. I didn’t do this because I struggled with the content.

I did this because I was worried that my grades wouldn’t be perfect. And that, even worse, my grades wouldn’t be perfect even though I’d tried my hardest.

So what did I do? I left study until the last minute so that when I didn’t get a perfect result I could point to lack of study as the reason for my shortcoming. Imperfection would be easier to swallow if there was something clear I could point to as the cause.

See: How To Stop Feeling Guilty That You’re Not StudyingΒ On Weekends

Perfectionism and blogging

I feel like I didn’t even know just how much of a perfectionist I was until I started this blog.

Perfectionism and blogging are not a great pair.

While perfectionism might ensure that every blog post that we publish is perfect and up to our excessively high standards, it will also likely ensure that we publish very few blog posts.

From my very first post on Smart Twenties, I’ve been faced with the reality that what I write isn’t going to be perfect. As soon as I publish something I’ll want to edit it and edit it and edit it again.

Perfectionism had (and still has) me wanting to spend all my time editing a blog post I’ve already published instead of writing the next one. Perfectionism had me leaving dozens of completed posts in my drafts (posts that were definitely good enough to publish) because they weren’t perfect.

The good news is that blog posts don’t have to be perfect.

An imperfect but published blog post is way more helpful than a perfect blog post that never comes into existence. Which is obvious. But when you’re up amongst it it can be hard to see that that’s the case.

I’ve come to terms with the fact that hitting publish is more important than writing that perfect blog post.

One thing that definitely helps with this is a blogging schedule. Posting on this blog every Thursday and emailing my subscribers with a blog post every Sunday has been an amazing way to force myself to hit that publish button.

I still screw up every now and again, but I’ve gotten a lot better.

See: 7 Fears I Had Before I Started Blogging (And Why I Started A Blog Anyway)

Perfectionism and social media

I feel like I need my Instagram feed to be perfect, which means that it doesn’t actually reflect my real life or who I really am.

That doesn’t mean the things I’ve posted haven’t been true.

It’s more that I’ve edited out the things that aren’t perfect: photos that aren’t beautifully composed and edited and things I’m obsessed with like personal development and reading.

Perfectionism makes me want to be someone I’m not on social media. It makes me want to be less ‘me’ and more everyone else, which means that I’m also extremely conscious of what everyone else is doing, saying and posting.

And I don’t like that it makes me act like that – it makes me even more critical of myself than I’d normally be.

In the last few months I’ve gotten a lot better at posting the things I actually like on social media and not caring so much about what everyone else is doing. But I’m still working on it, I’m still struggling with it.

I shared some of my thoughts on perfectionism and social media (specifically instagram) in the latest blog post for my email subscribers.

Every Sunday I send my email subscribers a blog post that hasn’t been published on the blog (and won’t be published in the future either). If you want to read a second Smart Twenties blog post every week, just sign up for my emails at the bottom of this post!

Perfectionism as a source of pride

For many perfectionists (myself included), the inability to be happy with anything that’s not ‘perfect’ can become somewhat of a source of pride.

We seem to believe it makes us better in some way, that setting performance standards that are practically impossible to reach is somehow a good thing.

Now I know there are arguments that it is actually a good thing (‘if you aim for the stars you’ll land on the moon’) but in my experience, holding myself to incredibly high performance standards is crippling. It’s so crippling that instead of ‘landing on the moon’, I often decide I should never try to ‘take off’ in the first place.

How can that be a good thing?

Sure, it guarantees that I’ll likely never ‘fail’. But it also guarantees that I’ll almost likely never really succeed either.

If I only start things that are 100% guaranteed to succeed then I’m probably not doing anything that’s really interesting. It means I’m doing things that many people have done before and things that almost anyone could do.

And that’s not what I really want.

With high risk comes high reward. And with no risk? No reward.

See: Why You’re Good Enough For Your Dream Job

What do you think?

What does perfectionism look like for you?

Let me know in the comments below, I’d love to know!

Sam xx

Author: Sam Brown

  • I can definetely relate to this. I struggled with perfectionism for so long. I still do, however, I am aware of it now and I am working with it. I was a perfectionist when it came to my study, exercise, and diets. It was a little crazy actually….
    I feel like perfectionism can ruin so much for you. Having high standards and ambitions are great – as long as it doesn’t control your life..

    • Hey Heidi!

      Thanks so much for sharing, I really appreciate it! And I definitely agree, having high standards and ambitions are great so long as they don’t control your life (and don’t limit what you’re willing to try in the first place).

      Sam xx

  • You are so right… Perfectionism and blogging are not a great pair. I have a side of me that is a perfectionist. But, I try to strike a balance. Because, perfectionism will kill you if you are an artistβ™₯β™₯

    • Hey Summer

      Thanks for your comment! Striking a balance is so important (because you obviously don’t want to post things that aren’t of high quality but at the same time, you don’t want to not post anything at all because nothing lives up to that high standard).

      Sam xx

  • I agree with the fact that you don’t feel like studying because you know that your grades won’t be perfect. It’s a real struggle- but I’m glad you’ve been able to overcome it (for the most part.) This post really helps for understanding what it’s all about.

    • Hey Elyse,

      Thanks for your lovely comment (as always!)

      Yeah study is definitely one of the ways that perfectionism can show up! I’ve got a lot better with it (though I’m not studying at the moment) but I still found myself slipping back into that perfectionist mindset quite easily. I think that until we do the work to change our beliefs around success and perfection etc then we’ll keep slipping back, so I’m working on changing those beliefs instead of just dealing with the ‘symptoms’ of perfectionism πŸ™‚

      Sam xx

    • Hi Dominique

      Thanks for sharing – I can only imagine how having children adds a whole other layer to perfectionism! I’m reading Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes at the moment and she says some really interesting things about her experience with perfectionism and various aspects of life (including having children), it might be worth a read πŸ™‚ I love the book!

      Sam xx

  • Hey Sam! As a graphic designer I completely relate to this. I’m conditioned to work on a project until it is perfect…it’s really hard for me to put anything out into the world that doesn’t meet the high standards I set for myself. When I started my blog, I had similar feelings because I was designing AND writing something so personal, and it was one of the biggest undertakings in my career. My perfectionism runs hand in hand with overthinking everything, and its honestly because I genuinely care! My most recent struggle with perfectionism has been planning a wedding. Whew! Just wait for that one!!


    • Hey Katie!

      Thanks for sharing all that, I can totally relate! And I definitely overthink a lot of things haha it’s a hard habit to get out of.

      And I can only imagine the struggle with perfectionism that comes up when planning a wedding!! I’m sure the big day will be beautiful πŸ™‚

      Sam xx

  • I am so feeling this post right now. It’s gearing up to finals week for me, and I’m seeing my perfectionism inhibiting all of my drives and desires: to exercise, to study, to get better at something. Being a perfectionist can be seriously daunting β€” but once you know how to work around it, or how to let your perfectionism take a back seat, it can also be really rewarding. πŸ™‚ Wonderful post!

    Jessica //

    • Hey Jessica πŸ™‚

      Thanks so much for your comment! Perfectionism really does have a way of affecting every area of our lives doesn’t it? And it’s so true – it’s not really going to ‘go away’, we just need to learn how to work with it and not have it dictating every move we make.

      Sam xx

  • I’ve never read something so relatable. I need to overcome so much of this if i’m ever going to succeed and do well in life.
    The excercise thing!!!! I did level 1 of the 30 day shred relentlessly because I had to keep starting again, and I nearly never got past 10 days in a row to get to level 2, hahaha.
    Its odd because the two times in the past 3 years I’ve actually successfully completedly it and gotten past the rest day, it was really effective. I just found your blog today and I already love it πŸ™‚

    • Thanks so much for sharing all of that Saskia! That’s exactly what I did with BBG, I’ve done the first 4 weeks of it probably at least 6 times now haha

      And thanks for your kind words about my blog! I’m glad to hear you’re enjoying it πŸ™‚

      Sam xx

  • Totally feeling this post! Being a perfectionist is so draining on me because I’m constantly over-editing something, being to hard on myself and wasting time. I have learned over time that I have to make sure I let some stuff go and just do the best that I can do. Also, I have come to realize that it is okay to say no to people and to things. I think most perfectionist think that we have to do everything and it’s not good to do everything. Finding balance is important to overcome perfectionism. πŸ™‚

    • I love your comment! I really do think that perfectionism goes hand in hand with wanting to do everything and be everything, which is kind of ironic because if you’re trying to do everything then you probably won’t be ‘perfect’ at any of it (whereas if we chose only a few key things to focus on we’d be more likely to be ‘perfect’). Balance/prioritising is so important πŸ™‚

      Sam xx

  • I couldn’t agree more with every single thing you say, I feel so related! Even though I sometimes get a rush of happiness when I’m striving for perfection, other times I wish I wasn’t like this because I have such a hard time when I think “I’m not good enough”. Also, it’s like you say, I don’t try some things because I fear I won’t excel at them. The life of a perfectionist is hard…

    • Hey Cristina!

      I totally agree, ‘I’m not good enough’ really goes along with perfectionism and is probably one of the main things that drive it (because we believe that if we were perfect then we’d finally be good enough) and we’re way harsher on ourselves than anyone else is on us. Thanks for your comment πŸ™‚

      Sam xx

  • Without having read other comments (sorry if a repost), I feel like someone should tell you that you’ve missed an important connection in in your own words that might be helpful to think about. In the social media subsection, you wrote, “I’m also extremely conscious of what everyone else is doing, saying and posting.”

    This is actually a great reason for you to have a blog. Instead of letting it make you anxious, hone that hypersensitivity and use it to your advantage. You’re PLUGGED IN, you see what people think about, talk about, and post about. Use it to stay on-trend and on topic. Use your own perceived weakness as a strength to capitalize on your career as a blogger.

    Stay smart, girl.

    • Hey Leslie!

      Thank you SO much for sharing that, no one else has pointed that out and I was completely unaware of it. Thanks for your wisdom πŸ™‚ sometimes it’s hard to see something when you’re so close to it.

      Sam xx

  • Oh my goodness YESSSS I can so relate to this post!!! Especially to perfectionism and exercise. It’s like … that horrible mindset of, “oops, I slipped up one time so … I might as well just REALLY slip up!”

    Bur seriously, thanks for sharing. πŸ™‚


    • Hey Allison!

      Yes! It’s exactly that – ‘I screwed up a tiny bit so it doesn’t matter if I completely screw it up’ We view any slip as bad, even if it’s minor, so instead of just trying to recover from the little slip we just let it all go. It’s not a great mindset to be in at all and I find it definitely influences the way I approach exercise and the way I approach eating healthy too.

      Sam xx

  • Oh man do I ever know that feeling of abandoning a goal after being headlong in it, after just a tiny speed bump (like missing a day of exercise). It’s like 100% or 0%. I’ve spent most of my twenties trying to find that middle ground and sometimes I do, and sometimes I don’t. I tend to think that perfectionism’s root is fear – fear of not being good enough, and like you said, it severely limits your take-off attempts because of the terrifying thought, “What if I fail?”

  • Nice post.

    This is my first time here on your blog. I’m a 23 year-old male, all the way from Brazil. I found the link for your blog on the Paul Angone’s article: 20 Secrets for your 20s.

    This post described me in many ways. I struggle with perfectionism too. Sometimes it gives you that feeling that you will never be good enough, and like you said you end up not trying for what you want to accomplish.

  • I’m no longer in my 20’s and at 32 I feel I can add to this post and give my 20 year old something self some advice (and this still goes for myself in my 30’s also)

    1- Nobody is perfect. Fact. Everybody has imperfections and only share their best experiences on-line generally (not all, but most)

    2 – Never compare yourself to anybody else, you’re your own unique version of you and nobody can change that πŸ™‚

    3- Always be kind, be loving and sweet to others, give advice, be a friend, love your enemies and forgive them – it’s so important not to hold grudges.

    4- Spread love. Here are some words taken by a very wise man:

    “Attitude is a difference maker. If you is your attitude it will give you greater purpose. Life and death are in the power of words, words can either kill or give life, it’s your choice. Nobody wants you to put them down, we want to be inspired.

    Enable a person to become something. Encourage a person in love. You can help somebody become and it’s great to develop people to become who they should be. Help somebody get to A-B and try to get them there. Speak to the person like they are there already”

    5 – Always strive to be better, but for you. Perfection is almost impossible, even the greatest people we look up to have daily struggles. Be the best version of you, the smallest steps can make the biggest differences.

    6 – Mix with friends who have your best interests at heart, those are the ones who will always be there πŸ™‚

    7- Don’t be obsessed by looks, it’s wonderful to look beautiful and make an effort however, don’t let them consume you, as inner beauty comes from within πŸ™‚

    8- Remember to relax and have you time! It’s so important for you mind, body and health

    9- Get fit πŸ™‚ It’ll do wonders for all aspects of your daily life

    10- Be happy, embrace life, see the world, create memories you’ll never forget with people you love.

    11- spend time with family and loved ones, create moments with them and be sure to document them even if they aren’t for your blog

    12- Blogging, remember not to compare, only be inspired by others πŸ™‚ Be yourself.

    Hope that helps and was informative in some kind of way, advice I would give myself πŸ™‚

    Laura xx

  • It’s so reassuring to read this and know that I’m not the only one who suffers with her own obsession to succeed. It’s a sad reality, but it’s comforting reading your post and the comments seeing there are plenty of us who are all perfectionists! I’ve just subscribed to your blog, I’d love to get your exclusive blog post on perfectionism and social media if that’s possible?

  • I identify with this so much! I have to keep telling myself over and over again that “done is better than perfect”.

    Done is better than perfect.

    I’ve found it very helpful to just put that sentence on a post-it and look at it every day!

    Judith |

  • I most definitely love your blog. This post so strikes a chord. Thank you! Just thank you, for putting the perfectionist mindset into such real words. I am struggling with this at the moment. I have thought of starting a blog for the longest time (5 years +) and I still haven’t because I want to research and know everything there is to it so that it will be perfect. I give up and don’t even try on so many things because of this destructive mindset, then I get depressed that I can’t seem to commit to my dreams. Whatever I think of, the thoughts that follow are of how it’s not going to work. Lol. It’s a real struggle. I’m happy that I have realized it it am willing to do things anyway, not caring what everyone else will think. I just need to do it. It is my thing. It is what I want. If I don’t do it, who will do it for me?

    I’m really happy to have found your blog and I look forward to reading your other posts!

    Just amazing. Thank you 😊

  • I felt like I was reading an article about my entire life. I’ve always wondered why I never finish things, or wait to start studying/practicing my music for something. It’s like I mentally know better and that I need to start earlier if I want to thrive/succeed/not fail, and I thought the fear of failing would be motivation enough to get me working harder and I’ve always wondered why it hasn’t and reading this article about using that as an excuse for not doing well and making it seem like you didn’t try so it’s okay if it’s not perfect made me realize that I have a lot to work on!

    Thank you so much for your insights. Hopefully now that I know more of the cause I can start working on changing my habits and not falling off the wagon if something doesn’t go perfectly.



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