I’ve been a perfectionist for as long as I can remember—always caring about what other people think, worrying about being judged, and overanalyzing everything. As a kid, I never raised my hand in class even if I was 99% sure I knew the answer.
In my success-driven mind, every bad score on a test meant I’d never get accepted to my dream school and every missed goal in a game would prevent me from playing soccer in college. Crazy, right? My standards were so ridiculously high that I was never happy, and the sad truth is that I was the one who put all that unnecessary pressure on myself.
While, thankfully, my perfectionist tendencies have lessened with age, I still struggle with them. Even as I write, I constantly self-edit rather than let my stream of consciousness flow onto the page. But when I find I’m being too self-critical, I remember to ask myself: “What’s the worst that can happen? Will this typo kill me?”
What Causes Perfectionism?
On a psychological level, perfectionism is a false belief that, “If I look perfect, act perfect and live perfect, I can avoid blame, shame and judgement.” Perfectionism is externally focused and rooted in fear – the fear that you won’t measure up if people see you for who you really are.
Essentially, it’s a defense mechanism – a wall we put up to protect ourselves from being hurt. However, in reality, all perfectionism does is prevent us from being seen.
The Difference Between Perfectionism and Striving for Excellence
Perfectionism is externally focused. It isn’t about what you want – it’s about what other people will think. It’s the fear of failure and being unable to meet people’s expectations.
Striving for excellence, on the other hand, is internally focused. It’s working hard and doing your best. It’s focusing on your progress and not measuring your success based on society’s expectations.
Why Perfectionism Hurts Your Chances of Success
When your fear of failure becomes all-consuming, you will start thinking and behaving in ways that reinforce that fear. Although this is all happening on an unconscious level, it ultimately will cause those fears to come true.
The sad truth is in our quest for perfection, we end up going into self-sabotage mode. In fact, studies show perfectionism hinders achievement. Being a perfectionist is linked to anxiety, addiction, and depression.
Perfectionists often have a distorted view of reality, setting their sights too high and setting themselves up for failure. While it’s good to strive for excellence, perfectionists often take it one step too far – spending too much time on one task, which ultimately makes them less productive.
Letting Go of Perfectionism and Living Authentically
Many of us don’t realize the reason for our unhappiness stems from being inauthentic. Let’s face it: being fake is exhausting. When you waste your energy at a job you hate, in an unhealthy relationship and hold back doing and saying what you want – it will take an emotional toll on you.
Authenticity is not a character trait, it’s a practice. Living authentically is showing up and letting yourself be seen. It’s being brave enough to make yourself vulnerable and step outside your comfort zone. It’s focusing less on impressing people and more on connecting with them.
Most importantly, stop chasing perfection. It’s our failures, not our successes, that teach us the most about ourselves. If we’re not willing to accept our weaknesses, we will never work to improve those areas, and won’t grow as people.