5 Ways That Perfectionism is Ruining Your Life

I was 22 before I figured out that I was a raving lunatic perfectionist. I had been this way for so long that I thought everyone thought the way that I did, and some people were just better at life than I was. I had no idea.

You would think since being a perfectionist was literally ruining my life that I would, you know, have noticed that I was one.

But oh, I was. Here’s how I knew:

  1. I gave myself absolutely no grace, about anything, ever.
  2. I rarely described my days as being “good!” when people asked.
  3. I was always tired.
  4. I felt stressed even when there was nothing to be stressed about.
  5. I got sick more than almost anyone else I knew.
  6. Have I mentioned yet that I was anxious? Did I even need to?
  7. I procrastinated all the time. I procrastinated procrastinating.

Anxiety played a major role here, but my anxiety was fueled by my own ridiculous standards for myself. At the end of the day, that’s what perfectionism is. It isn’t having a perfect life, or even wanting a perfect life. Perfection is holding yourself to a standard in which anything less than “perfect” is somehow a failure.

Friend, you deserve better than that.

I did too, and I was feeling like everything was falling apart. All I knew was that I felt like a gigantic failure, so as I often do, I started reading. All 4 of Brene Brown’s books were life-changers, especially Daring Greatly and The Gifts of Imperfection. I also love Emily Ley’s Grace Not Perfection and Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist. I would highly recommend you read at least one of these this year.

I slowly began to understand that perfectionism was ruining my life, and that it’s probably ruining yours too.

1. Perfectionism is constantly telling you this one, massive, lie.

You know what that lie is? That you are capable of it (perfection). Because you’re not, I’m not, no one is. Perfection isn’t real.  Girl, you’re running after something that you can never, ever have. There’s nothing you or I can do to live a perfect life, or be perfect at our jobs, have a perfect home, look perfect every day, nothing. The only thing we can really do is kill ourselves trying.

Don’t believe this lie anymore. From the bottom of my heart, I believe this now:

When I stopped running after perfection, I got to embrace the messiness, the fun, the crazy, the joy of life.

Brene Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection is basically a love letter to a joy-filled, whole-hearted life. I highly recommend it!

Don’t believe the lie, okay?

2. Perfectionism is stealing your courage.

I think we know in our hearts, really deep down, that our perfectionism is unattainable. As a result, we tend to only pursue things that are safe, easy, and unlikely to showcase our perceived “failure”. In short? We’re no longer living bravely. Bravery is the quality that I admire most in people and one of the things that I desire most for myself. When I was living in the throngs of perfectionism, I lost almost any sense of courage.

For example, I talked here about how I started dreaming up this blog 3 whole years ago, and I only managed to launch it about a month ago. Why? Perfectionism. I couldn’t stand the thought of having a blog out in the world that was anything less than perfect. I believed the lie that I could somehow make it perfect, and that if it were perfect, I would be protected from criticism. 

Speaking of which–

3. Perfectionism makes you terrified of criticism.

Personally, I think perfectionism is rooted in the idea that we aren’t worthwhile unless we are perfect (which is sad because, once again, the ability to attain perfection is a lie). So when we are criticized, it isn’t just about someone not appreciating our work or our efforts. Rather, it feels like a total rejection of self. The perfectionist hears “I am fundamentally not enough” when they hear criticism, even if it’s constructive. It’s no wonder that perfectionism steals our courage; if any criticism at all causes us to question our fundamental worthiness, why would we chance that?

But living in fear is no way to live, you know?

4. Perfectionism is making you exhausted.

And it’s no wonder, right? You’re busting your cute butt over something that is absolutely impossible to attain. You’re fearful of anyone finding out that you don’t actually have it all together, criticism makes you feel paralyzed, and since courage is so hard to come by, you may not even be doing the things in your life that you’re passionate about (passion takes courage, in my opinion).

At my very worst, in college, I was always tired. No amount of rest was enough to keep me from longing for sleep at any time of the day, and I got sick every couple of weeks. Like I said above, a lot of this was fueled by anxiety, and my anxiety was fueled by perfectionism.

Guys, nothing I ever did felt like enough. And I was so tired.

5. Perfectionism is stealing your joy.

“Nah, Sarah, this one isn’t a thing. I have plenty of joy.”

I’m so glad you do, but imagine how much you could have if you stopped trying to be in control all the time.

I’ve always been a joyful sort of person, and as a person of faith I was taught to embrace joy in all things. But, wow, did things change when I really finally began to embrace that I wasn’t in control all the time, and when I stopped caring so much about what everyone thought about me. I laughed more, I danced more, I sang more. In moments of quiet I was grateful for peace, rather than being plagued by all the things I thought I should be doing.

Instead, I’m learning to embrace rest, laughter, and the craziness of living a life in which I know I can’t control the circus every moment of every day.

Last thoughts…

The keyword in that last sentence is “learning”. I often say that I am a recovering perfectionist. In some ways, I think perfectionism is in my blood. And while I’ve formed new habits and thinking patterns that are changing my life. it’s not something that I’ve left behind completely. I have to remind myself daily of these kinds of things:

“Let go of this.”

“Stop trying to control that.” 

“Rest.” 

“Breathe.” 

“I am enough.” 

And life isn’t perfect, but honestly? I don’t really want it to be anymore.

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