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The perfectionist curse

I hate to admit it, but I’m a gigantic perfectionist. In all areas of life I strive for perfection. Even as a child, I always aimed to get the highest grades, be the best at sports and be successful in my studies. In many of these areas I managed to excel, which I believe is partly do to the fact that I AM indeed a perfectionist. I can say, without hesitation, that during my younger years my relationship with perfectionism was a relatively positive one, but the older I got, the more this relationship started taking a turn for the worse. Especially since I entered the workforce. With the thought of “you have to be good at everything” breathing down my neck, I have seen a whole new side of perfectionism: an ugly one. As much as I believe that perfectionism can lead to positive outcomes, it’s also a curse. A curse that needs to know when to knock it off.

Over the past couple of months I have observed my perfectionism at work and I’ve come to several conclusions about this fascinating human trait. Bare with me as I try to unravel the problems that unfold when trying to reach a constant state of perfection, as well as the solutions to these problems.

Problem #1 – There’s no such thing as perfection
When we try to aim for perfection, we are basically doomed to fail. Why? Because perfection simply doesn’t exist. Some people might seem to have the perfect relationship, or perform perfectly in their job, but we all realise that each and everyone of us has imperfections. Even though we seem to be aware of this fact, we choose to ignore it and go out of our way to be perfect in everything we do, but it’s only a matter of time before perfectionism wears you out. I found that out all too well. The more I strived for perfection in the workplace, the more I felt incapable of doing the tasks assigned to me. Besides feeling incapable, I also felt stressed, because I forced myself to work longer hours in order to do my tasks perfectly. Perfectionism is truly a losing a game.

Problem #2 – Ambitious goals aren’t bad, unless they’re unrealistic
I consider myself to be quite an ambitious person. I’m always thinking about new interesting projects I could launch into the world, however, when trying to turn my ambitions into reality, I always end up dealing with the same problem: I set incredibly unrealistic goals for myself. For example, I recently started a swing-dancing course. My aim was to be a pro swing-dancer after only two classes, which obviously didn’t happen. I’ve become incredibly good at setting unrealistic goals for myself, which has only lead to a feeling of failure, which leads to sadness and personal resentment, which should be avoided at all times.

Problem #3 – Comparing yourself to others
One thing that I often catch myself doing is comparing myself to other people from my generation. I recently entered the field of communications, which is an incredibly interesting and diverse field of work. During work I meet many people of my age who already carry the title of “communications expert” or who have started a successful business before they reach their 30s. At times I feel intimidated by these people, simply because they seem much more successful than I am at this point in time and even though I don’t share the same ambitions as they do, I can’t help but compare my own success to theirs. A pretty stupid thing to do, because you only end up with the thought “what have I been doing with my life?!”, a thought that is especially brutal on perfectionists, because we expect to be on top of our game at all times.

Problem #4 – Overloaded brain
My brain is always at work. From the moment I wake up until the moment I go to sleep, I’m always thinking about something. Add perfectionism to that equation and you get a brain overload. At times I really wish that I could just switch off my brain, so I didn’t have to think or worry about anything. I’ve tried to relax my brain on multiple occasions, but all my attempts have utterly failed. Friends advised me to meditate, which turns out to be incredibly hard. How the heck do other people do it? My boyfriend always tells me that my mind doesn’t control me, but that I control my mind. Well, not in my case. My brain always tells me that I should use my time being productive and this 24/7 perfectionism is therefore incredibly tiring and can lead to serious health deterioration.

Problem #5 – Joyless perfectionism
What concerns me most about perfectionism is that this trait has the ability to suck all the joy out of life. When I talk to a friend about her weekend and she tells me she spent the whole weekend doing nothing but watching television and eating delicious foods, I sometimes feel envious. Many times I have tried to spend a weekend doing nothing, but I can’t seem to do that for even an hour. My brain has been so focused on being productive all the time that I don’t allow myself the joy of doing absolutely nothing. It’s quite sad really, since doing absolutely nothing from time to time is exactly what you need in order to develop new creative ideas and besides that, your mind needs breaks in order to remain sane. No sane brain, no gain.

So, what can we do about all this?

Cut yourself some slack
The one thing us perfectionists should do is cut ourselves some slack. No one is perfect and no one expects us to be. However much we would like to be good at everything, it’s very important to realise that it’s alright if we’re not. There will always be things I’m not good at, such as math, and that’s totally ok. The toughest part is actually accepting that you’re not good at something. Once you do, you’ll definitely be a happier person and you will certainly be developing less grey hairs.

Don’t let your mind control you
I love my brain, but sometimes I wish it would go on vacation so I could have some peace and quiet. The mind is incredibly powerful, but you must always realise that you should be in control of your mind and not the other way around. Once you gain control over your own thoughts, it will become much easier to channel these thoughts in a peaceful and effective manner. This is easier said than done, but it’s certainly worth the try.

Count your blessings
Every person on this planet is good at something. Perfectionists tend to lose sight of what they’re good at. When you try to be perfect at everything, you seem to forget all the things you’ve already accomplished and that’s a shame because we should totally be celebrating ourselves! We need to learn to count our blessings instead of letting the things we’re not so good at get in the way of our happiness. Being happy is one of my main priorities in life and anything that gets in the way of that happiness is simply not worth it. That means you too, perfectionism.

You only live once, so live wisely
Whenever my perfectionism makes me sad and pessimistic, I try to remember one important thing: I only have one life and I want to live it well! We shouldn’t allow perfectionism to control our lives as much as it does, because it prevents us from living our lives as we were intended to live them: in happiness, in love and in health. At the end of the day, I prefer coming home as a person who is proud of herself instead of a person who pushes herself over the edge. I am imperfect in my own way and should be nothing but proud of that!

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