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. 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 Studying 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.
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.
What do you think?
What does perfectionism look like for you?
Let me know in the comments below, I’d love to know!