Two years ago I wasn’t the same person I am now. I think back to that woman and I don’t even know her anymore. All I know is I wish I’d loved her better and cared for her more. She didn’t need me to constantly tell her that she wasn’t good enough. She didn’t need me to belittle her for every unmade bed, extra kilo she carried or day when she didn’t tick every single damn box. What she needed was for me to love her and tell her she was okay, just as she was. And I couldn’t. Because I was too busy trying to prove to the world that I had what it took. When really, deep down, I was drowning in shame and the belief that no matter what I did, I would never be enough anyway.
This is the paradox of perfectionism. It doesn’t matter how hard we try, we will never get there. There is no point at which we can say we have reached perfection. There is only the exhaustive strain for a goal that will always be out of reach.
There’s nothing wrong with healthy striving to work hard and be the best version of ourselves that we can be. But that is never what it is about for the heart of a perfectionist. It is striving for your acceptance and your approval. It is all about what you think of me, not what I think of me. It is the belief that if we do everything perfectly, then we can avoid your shame and judgment. We can avoid ever feeling out of control. Because if we let go of control, even for a second, we begin to unravel. And so we grasp tightly to control and hold onto our perfectionism like a security blanket.
We waste years being exhausted, unhappy, lacking fulfillment and unable to enjoy life. For me, it all changed one day when life slapped me in the face and brought me to a complete physical, emotional and spiritual breakdown. I reached the ground zero of my life.
It was the best thing that could have happened to me.
My journey out of perfectionism and into the person I am today hasn’t been an easy one, but I would never trade it. I’ve learnt that life is a myriad of choices we can make every day to live whole-heartedly and not get pulled back into the destructive and addictive cycle of perfectionism.
It means, first and foremost, that no matter what gets done, and how much is left undone, we are enough.
It means giving ourselves permission: To make mistakes. To fail. To leave things unfinished. To let go of control. To be flawed and messy and human.
It means making the choice to no longer care what anyone thinks of us. To let go of the need to compare ourselves to anyone.
It means no longer basing our self-worth on our level of production. We are no less worthy because we didn’t cross everything off the to-do list that day.
It means setting healthy boundaries and looking after ourselves first. Recognizing when we are running on empty and taking the time to recharge. Keeping check of our priorities and making sure our needs and the needs of our families come before others. It’s not selfish. It’s self-care. Two very different things that, sadly, have been blurred to mean one and the same.
It means letting go of everything we think we are supposed to do, and instead embracing what we want to do, what we were created to do, what makes us come alive. For me, that means no longer seeing writing as a waste of time. It is what fulfills me and makes me feel that I am contributing something unique to this world. When I write, the house gets messy, the laundry piles up, my husband makes dinner the nights I’m stuck in the zone. And the beautiful thing is – that’s okay. And I know that now.
It means scheduling in time for ourselves – to have fun, to play, to have coffee with a friend, read books in the sun, take long walks on the beach, watch movies, journal and daydream.
It means loving our bodies and exercising to keep healthy, not to punish ourselves. Choosing to see our bodies as beautiful and an outward expression of our inward soul. Nurturing it, caring for it and not hating it simply because it doesn’t live up to the image of beauty that society portrays.
It means some days styling our hair and wearing make-up, and some days not. And being okay either way knowing that beauty does not come from outward appearance, but is a reflection of our heart, mind and soul.
Brene Brown says, “Perfectionism is a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from taking flight.”
There are still times we will feel drawn to our old perfectionist ways. But once we have walked away, we can never go back. It is such an exhausting, soul-destroying way to live. There is no room for spontaneity, creativity, growth, change and a life lived with joyful abandon.
And I know that who we are when we let go of perfectionism, when we mindfully choose to live unencumbered from that, is the one who is free to take flight.