Perfectionism: strength or weakness?
We are not doing ourselves any favors by thinking of perfectionism as a strength or a weakness. Sure, they may be contexts in which perfectionism is not your Achilles heel, and it may even be appreciated by your boss or co-workers, but at the end of the day, going through life as a perfectionist is a constant uphill battle.
Being a perfectionist is like trying to quench your thirst with saltwater. The more you drink, the less you satisfy your thirst. Instead of wondering, why am I still thirsty? The perfectionist doubles down and keeps drinking from the same water that will eventually kill her.
A slow death from dehydration. That’s what perfectionism does to our potential. The more you work, the goalpost just keeps moving ahead. You keep working and spinning your wheels, and instead of wondering, “could I do things differently?” you double down and do more of the same.
Thinking of our perfectionism in terms of a strength or weakness prevents us from looking into ourselves and understanding the root of our behavior. If we stay at this surface level, we believe that perfectionism is a weakness only when things are not going your way. Think about it, you are usually tolerant of your ways as long as you are ascending and winning, right?
What happens when life doesn’t go your way? When things don’t go as planned, when people fail to meet your expectations? When people tell you that they are done with your ways? Ah! Suddenly, it is a weakness!
So, is there a right way to think about perfectionism?
I have found that the healthiest way to see it is to see it as something that IS, without attaching a judgement or an emotion to it. It is neither positive nor negative. I am not trying to move from “weak perfectionist” to “strong perfectionist”. NO.
I’ve been there and done that. When I thought that all I had to do was double down and push myself even further out of my comfort zone, I put my entire life at risk. My endocrine system broke down. It wasn’t swift and it wasn’t overnight. It was a seven year process. It is no coincidence that the peak of my PMDD was the peak of my depression, which was also the peak of my perfectionism, as it all happened when I left the safety of academia and stepped into the real world where you don’t get cookies or diplomas for adulting.
Having a uterus may have been the thing that saved me. My body screamed at me every month, YOU HAVE TO STOP WHAT YOU ARE DOING AND TAKE A LOOK AT YOURSELF. I don’t know if men go through this. Maybe they just have heart attacks, strokes, and random back pains.
Perfectionism robs you of the ability to enjoy the journey and the process. Anything worth accomplishing in life takes hard work, I won’t deny that. But, how about we do the hard work without self-flagellation? How about we set our ambitions high without attaching our self-worth to it?
These questions may petrify some of you. Not so long ago, I could not imagine NOT attaching my self-worth to accomplishments. How else was I supposed to define my self-worth? The notion that self-worth is internal sounded like a bunch of feel-good hippie crap that would appeal to losers.
As long as we keep talking about perfectionism as a quirky character flaw that just requires we fine tune our expectations, we won’t find the peace of mind that we are (desperately) searching for. Perfectionism is a coping mechanism to avoid dealing with deep emotional wounds.
It doesn’t matter what your life looks like on the outside, being a perfectionist is living in a constant state of survival mode. It doesn’t leave room for much else, unless you are willing to go within and free yourself...