If you’re anything like me, you spend a lot more time thinking about doing something than you do actually doing it. the ways it could possibly go wrong, all the potential obstacles, you think of how you might fail and having to live with the shame of yet another failure. Maybe you think about feeling ashamed, or disappointing your family. So you sit and look at your your pen, or paint brush, or running shoes or semi-finished project, and think ‘I’ll get up early, and do it tomorrow’.
Then tomorrow swings round and, shock horror, it still doesn’t feel quite right. So you think ‘after breakfast maybe’.
This cycle of aiming for perfection and the subsequent procrastination is often a product of a mindset which inextricably links self worth and comparative achievement. Such a mindset is especially rife in a society in which hyper-visibility is very much the norm. Inevitably, the constant exposure to others’ highlight reels, where seemingly everyone has the best grades, the best jobs, endless awards, leads to comparison and the infinite pressure to do more, and better than the last. Under such pressure to match up to or exceed others’ expectations, it’s unsurprising that doing nothing at all seems like a reasonable solution- you can’t fail at something if you never try eh?
Apathy, a symptom of the fear of failure, never gives us the chance to be imperfect as the likelihood of not achieving the set goal or meeting the expectation of yourself or others can be overwhelming enough to prevent us from ever trying. This can be applied to any aspect of our lives, from never starting to write the book you’ve always wanted to write, to never trying to initiate new relationships.
Perfectionism is often rooted in the need for approval and fear of failure and thus is very different from striving for excellence. Many of us developed our definitions of success at a young age, often within a system that actively encouraged competition, perfectionism and comparison; so it’s unsurprising that we carry this thinking into adulthood. Now, with access to ‘exceptional people’, and our peers 24/7, there is no scarcity of exposure to others, who portray a flawless public image. This has possibly emphasised the notion of the ‘disordered self’ characterised by ‘a focus on deficiencies, and sensitivity to criticism and failure.’
Letting Go of Perfectionism
While the root-cause perfectionist ideals may require further intrinsic exploration, the end goal is to disconnect worthiness from displays of achievement. This frees us to be okay with sometimes being good-enough.
Truthfully, most of the time, your writing, or painting may not be a masterpiece- obvs- and it probably won’t be. But letting go of perfectionism allows us to set individual standards for success, to achieve them at our own pace, and accept that sometimes ‘good enough’ is good enough.
Sylvia Rimm. What’s wrong with perfect? clinical perspectives on perfectionism and underachievement. 2007.
Miriam Adderholt-Elliott. Perfectionism & Underachievement. 1989
Thomas Curran and Andrew Hill. Perfectionism Is Increasing Over Time: A Meta-Analysis of Birth Cohort Differences From 1989 to 2016. 2017