The Pursuit of Perfection: What’s It Costing You?
Have you ever felt the desire or need to be perfect, either in some area of your life or across all of it? Maybe you want your appearance to look perfect, or feel a drive to portray a perfect life to others.
For some, it seems that no matter how much they have, they’re always striving for more.
There’s nothing wrong with having goals—it can be wonderfully motivating to have something to work towards—but when what you’re striving for is perfection, you’re always going to find yourself lacking.
This drive for perfection that’s permeating modern culture is simply not attainable. And it’s exhausting us.
Whether you pursue perfection yourself or you know someone who does, let’s leave judgement at the door and peel back the layers to uncover what it might really be about, because it is often a mask that fear wears.
During childhood, most of us are raised to be ‘good’. To do as we are told, to put the needs of others ahead of our own. We’re praised for good behaviour and reprimanded when we step across the line. So, we tend to develop in a way that pleases the person (usually a parent) requesting (or demanding) this of us. While their intention for us is (usually) simply to create a well-adjusted, thoughtful child who will grow into a thoughtful adult member of society, in some cases it can set up pathways in the nervous system and psychology that can be detrimental to our health.
We tell ourselves that in order to be loved, we have to do everything right and can never get into trouble. So, you do all you can to be good. Not just good—perfect—for nothing less than perfect will be enough.
Underneath this drive for perfection, what you’re really looking for is to return to the day—a day you can no longer remember—when in your very essence you had certainty that you were loved unconditionally.
When we align our behaviour with how loved or accepted we can be, we create an environment where any foot outside ‘the best’ will be perceived as failure. The perception of failure is like kryptonite for the perfectionist.
There is a massive difference between having an appreciation of excellence and the need to appear perfect, between having standards of self-care and not caring at all.
So, this drive to be perfect—what is it costing you?
When you believe that to be loved, special, or the favorite, you must be, do, act, and appear perfect, it will be a never-ending, unrelenting, exhausting, and futile pursuit. You will be in a rush to be all things to all people and rarely ask for support or help from others—even when you have a strong support network just waiting in the wings to assist. Think about this: you only pursue this because, in your heart of hearts, you don’t feel good enough the way that you are. There is nothing in this world that you can do, say, have, or be that will make you more perfect than you already are. There are those in your life who always have and always will love you unconditionally.
If nothing is ever ‘good’ enough, it’s so easy to forget to enjoy what we already have. We’re constantly looking forward to the next bigger and better thing on the horizon. We don’t celebrate our wins and appreciate our achievements. When we’re focused on the ‘doing’, we forget the beauty of just ‘being’. We’re less likely to create time for things that make us feel really good inside or that light up our soul because they feel insignificant or unimportant. Yet, people who are dying were asked what they would miss the most, they said the ordinary things. The smell of the rain on a hot road, my cat purring on my chest, my children’s laughter, watching the sunset. We have those now. Let yourself have what you already have. It’s what joy is all about and joy gives us an irreplaceable depth of energy and fulfillment in life.
What else usually goes hand in hand with perfection? Good old comparison. To believe that we aren’t enough, or that we need to be perfect, is to constantly look around at everyone else and measure ourselves as lacking. This drives unkind thoughts and can affect the choices we make every day. For many people, it is a feeling of not-enoughness that drives them to eat un-resourcefully. But beyond this, the language we use inside our own head to refer to ourselves can have a significant impact on our health. It can drive a stress response that begins to detract from our ability to properly rest or cultivate a sense of calm. It might make us more sensitive to comments from others and more prone to reacting poorly in situations where our ‘not enoughness’ is scratched. It is so, so important to be kind to ourselves.
I’ve just mentioned how the drive to perfection can affect the way we speak to ourselves, which in turn, can increase our stress levels, but there’s other aspects of perfectionism that can affect our health as well. We might be less inclined to rest because we feel guilty if we’re not being productive—Rushing Woman’s Syndrome anyone? Trying to be all things for all people, and do all things for all people, is exhausting. And if you add a lack of true rest to that mix, and a load of stimulants (such as sugar and/or caffeine) to keep us going, you end up with a body that is struggling to keep up with our pace of life. We need rest, downtime, and relaxation for our body. It’s not wired to be on the go 24/7 and it creates a cascade of biochemical reactions that create health challenges, both big and small. Don’t let it take a health crisis to wake you up to the fact that, without your health, you have nothing.
Achieving your dreams
Striving for perfection might actually be holding you back. If you have a fear of failure, you probably stick within your comfort zone, doing what you believe others expect of you or what you feel safe knowing you can succeed at. Maybe you have a wild dream to start your own business, but you’re terrified it might flop, so you stick to your day job that you’re good at but doesn’t give you a sense of fulfillment. When you speak to any successful entrepreneur (and I use them as an example simply because they’re often pioneers who step out on a limb and we can apply their experiences to many other aspects of our lives), failure is an inherent part of success. When we push ourselves outside of our comfort zone, we learn, and this knowledge paves the ultimate path of our fulfillment.