Perfect Isn't the Goal
by Jamie Spannhake
June 07, 2020
When I see people trying to be perfect, I want to help them. More often than not, it’s a person who is working hard in their profession and at home, trying to be everything to everyone all the time. Does this describe you? It describes me. So I get it. Let me give you a pat on the back -- or perhaps a supportive nod of my head from a safe 6 ft. distance -- and tell you: you don't have to be everything to everyone all the time.
This is particularly challenging right now, where we are balancing all the responsibilities we had pre-COVID, and have added new responsibilities like home schooling our kids.
Let me tell you it straight: YOU DO NOT HAVE TO BE PERFECT. In fact, no matter how hard you try, you won't be able to reach perfection, at least not all the time. So why keep setting yourself up to fail, and then feel bad? While you may think perfectionism is a laudable trait, I’m here to tell you: It is not. Read on to learn how perfectionism negatively affects your health and how you can break free from it.
Perfectionism Can Make You Sick. That's right. Not only does perfectionism cause psychological stress that makes you unhappy as you strive to achieve the impossible, it is bad for your health. Some researchers have determined that the risks of perfectionism are as dangerous as those associated with smoking. Plus the stress associated with perfectionism can cause irritable bowel disease (IBS), insomnia, heart disease, and even early death.
So how do you break the perfectionism habit? Here's 5 ways:
1. Give yourself a break. It’s common among overachiever types: We like to push ourselves. It feels so productive — until you’re exhausted, unhappy and severely stressed. So give yourself a break. You’re doing the best you can, right? So much anxiety is caused by focusing on what “should” be instead of what actually is. Get rid of “should” in your life. It sounds simple, but try to focus on what “is” and work with that. Be kind to yourself, like you would be to others.
2. Ask for help. One problem perfectionists face is that they rarely ask for help. Why? Because they may view it as interference and also be concerned that others are judging them because they need help. But that’s usually not the case. Most often, people who care about us want to help us. And one of the leading contributors to good health is a strong social network and community. So let your friends and family help you. It will make them feel important as well as taking some of the pressure off of you. One caveat, though: Do NOT try to control the way your helpers help. Their way may not be your way, but that’s okay. Focus on the outcome, not the process.
3. Outsource your perfection to others. Simply put, there are some things that must be done, but you don’t have to be the one to do them. If you always want your house to be perfectly clean, then hire a meticulous housekeeper. If your car must always be spotless, then buy a value pack from your local car wash and drive through on your way home from work once a week. If it’s important that your family have healthy dinners every night, then sign up for a home delivery service like Blue Apron or Green Chef.
4. Lay off social media. If you are wondering why everyone else on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Youtube and Instagram seems so perfect, know this: Social media is not real life. Of course, we all know that, but do we understand how viewing all those perfectly curated posts affects us? The truth is that comparison is the thief of joy. Spending time comparing ourselves to others — even when we know their social media self is not real — makes us depressed and decreases our self-esteem. So when you are looking to relax before sleep and think about taking “just a quick look at Facebook to get my mind off work stuff,” don’t look at your friends’ posts. Instead, look at your own posts, where you are having fun, spending time doing things you enjoy and, of course, looking “perfect.”
5. Be satisfied with non-perfection. Aiming for perfection is costly in time, energy and resources. How often have you spent an inordinate amount of time on something to make it perfect, and then no one else appreciates the perfection? Of course there is a bar above which you must operate as a worker, a spouse, a parent, and so on. But unless you are an Olympian, there are few times in your life when you truly must be perfect. So do a good job, and be proud of yourself for that. Then pat yourself on the back for the time and energy you saved so that you can achieve something else that is “good enough.”
Remember: You Are Awesome
You are trying really hard. No, you are not perfect, because no one is perfect, and if anyone requires that you perform perfectly and look perfect and be perfect, tell them to step down. Especially if that person is yourself.
A version of this article first appeared at Attorney at Work.