When you hear the term perfectionist, you might imagine a woman with pin-straight hair and flawless clothing. She’s walking around her house as if she’s on a mission, expertly adjusting any item that looks slightly out of place.
Perfectionists don’t always exhibit signs of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (although many do.) Some could care less about organization or the specific order of things, but fixate solely on one single aspect – whether it’s academic performance, body image, social acceptance, and so on.
Perfectionists exist in many forms, but they all have one important thing in common: They engage in an “all-or-nothing, or “black-or white” way of thinking. In other words, if something isn’t perfect, it’s deemed worthless.
My senior year of college, “getting my shit together” (for lack of a better term) meant bringing my mediocre GPA up to a 4.0, along with losing 20 pounds. I felt ten times better about myself, but with that came the intense pressure to keep this up. Although I’ve always been a bit of a worrier growing up, my anxiety shot up the roof.
Graduating college is an anxiety-provoking time for anybody. Unless you have a job lined up immediately (which most don’t), it’s terrifying not knowing the next step. This situation, coupled with my newfound perfectionist tendencies, meant that I essentially became a nervous wreck.
I started my first “real” job in September, working for a political campaign. This was by no means my dream job, but I thought it would be a potential stepping stone to future opportunities, as well as a great thing to add to my somewhat pathetic resume. (Looking back, a few internships in college as opposed to spiking my smoothies with vodka on Tuesday afternoons wouldn’t have necessarily been the worst idea in the world.)
Overall, I learned a lot from this job. However, many of these lessons came from mistakes I made along the way. At the time, those errors were difficult for me to accept.
When I made mistakes, I often convinced myself that I had become a failure – in the eyes others and myself. No matter how many countless times others assured me that everyone messes up at some point in their first job, it was like I was deaf to their encouragement.
When you start making positive improvements in your life, that sense of control is empowering – but can also become an addiction. Because of this, little mistakes become magnified in your head, which can be detrimental to your confidence.
The self-deprecation that stems from perfectionism can really take a toll on your overall well-being. Here are 3 tips to let go of those perfectionist tendencies that are doing more harm than good:
1. Reflect on your behavior – and the direct effect it has on your actions.
The problem with perfectionism is that beating ourselves up isn’t always an incentive to improve. In fact, sometimes it just leads to a downward spiral. Although we keep making a conscious effort to do better, our consistent frustration and negative outlook makes the journey more difficult than it was when we started.
For instance, whenever I dwell over a work project that was pretty good but not just right, I remind myself that I’m wasting time. Instead of effectively focusing on how I could improve in the future, I’m simply filling my mind with negative, self-damaging thoughts. As a result, I feel stuck – and more stressed and anxious than I was when I was actually doing the work.
It’s critical to recognize how being a perfectionist is helping you – and how it’s hurting you. Although it may be great for your work ethic, it can be terrible for your self-esteem. From there, it may be time to consider – Are your impossibly high standards to blame?
2. Embrace the journey – not only the destination.
When we have an objective, we can potentially become obsessive about the tasks necessary to reach it. Although that high level of determination and willpower is a good thing, that constant on-edge and tense feeling isn’t.
Allowing yourself some enjoyment will not only cause you to relax and not get caught up on the tiny details – but it can increase your enthusiasm. When your overall mood improves, so will your attitude toward the task.
Things will be less about getting the job done just right – and more about finding true purpose in what you are doing.
3. Celebrate your accomplishments.
There have been moments where others have expressed that they are proud of me, but it’s essentially gone in one ear and out the other. Rather than acknowledging the fact that I did a good job, all I’m fixated on is maintaining this success. It’s almost like I feel like I’ve been put on a pedestal, and it’s absolutely imperative that I continue doing well – otherwise, I’ll disappoint everyone.
Often times we are also so caught up in our tiny errors that we fail to recognize what we have actually done well. Maybe your team just submitted a winning proposal – and you had a large contribution to its success. Maybe later that day you were distracted and sent out an email with a typo. What proposal? I just used the wrong form of “there’ when emailing the VP.
The next time you achieve something, rather than stressing about little errors or your next move, take a breather and reward yourself. You earned this feeling of triumph. Cherish these moments, and think of them the next time you are discouraged.
This helps remind yourself that you are capable and intelligent of great things – and your life doesn’t have to be perfect all the time to reflect that.