For as long as I can remember, I’ve struggled with perfectionism. I still remember when I was in 3rdgrade, I got one question wrong on my spelling test. I couldn’t deal with it. For some reason, getting 19/20 was so painful and humiliating. I started to cry, and had to be taken out into the hallway and consoled by my teacher. Looking back, it’s funny in a sad sort of way. But it certainly wasn’t funny at the time.
Perfectionism more or less stayed with me throughout my life. It was there when I felt rejected for being overweight, and also when I lost weight with a strict diet and exercise regimen. It was there when I over-trained and injured myself in sports and Crossfit. It was there when I pushed myself to be the best at my job, when I published my first book, and when I felt badly about myself because my book was not selling as well as I wanted. And it was there when I struggled to date and commit to a spouse.
Moving from Perfectionism to Good Enough
Over the years, I knew I needed to relax and shift from perfectionism to “good enough.” But it was hard to do. “Good enough” just didn’t seem good enough. I was always striving for more, better, best. It was hard for me to be humble and accept my limitations. It was hard for me to accept my loved ones as they were, with strengths and weaknesses.
Using Perfectionism to Combat Perfectionism
One thing that has helped me over the years is to actually use my tendencies toward perfectionism to combat perfectionism. It sounds counterintuitive, but stay with me. As a perfectionist, I was always aiming for the best, the ideal. But at some point, I realized that my strivings for perfection were actually backfiring—they were leading me to a place that wasn’t the best, that was less than ideal.
One example of this had to do with working out and doing Crossfit. I wanted to be in the best possible shape I could be. As a perfectionist, this led me to push myself to the max and work out all the time, sometimes multiple workouts in a day. However, instead of leading to the ideal outcome, I got injured due to overtraining. My injuries set me back to a place that was even worse than when I started pushing so hard. My strivings toward perfection were actually leading me to a less perfect place.
Finding a Spouse
Another example was finding a spouse and getting married. Because of my perfectionistic tendencies, my standards were too high. I had all these things I wanted in a woman, but they were unrealistic, because no one is perfect. So, what ended up happening was that I found something wrong with every woman I dated, and decided she wasn’t the one. My perfectionistic tendencies were leading me to a place where I was alone. That wasn’t what I wanted. Again, my strivings toward perfection were leading me to a less perfect place.
Dialing Back Perfectionism
Once I realized that perfectionism was backfiring on me, I knew I had a decision to make. I needed to live my life in a way that was most likely to be effective and lead me toward the best possible outcome. But to do this, I had to dial back my perfectionism. In my head, I thought perfectionism would lead me to a place where I was completely happy. But in reality, perfectionism was leading me to a place where I was unhappy. Once I realized this, I worked to dial back my perfectionism, which actually maximized my outcomes and happiness.
What about you? If you’re struggling with perfectionism, take stock in how your life is working right now. Honestly look at the outcome of your perfectionism. Is it helping you to be effective in your life? Is it leading you to the best possible outcome? If not, it might be worth experimenting with dialing back your perfectionism, and see how that works.