“I need to be the perfect student”. “I must be the perfect employee”. “I have to be the perfect parent”. Many people with high anxiety strive towards perfection. I have been known to be a perfectionist in school, always trying to get straight A’s and being disappointed with any grade lower. You know a perfectionist when you see them and you might be one yourself.
Being detail-oriented and super organized can be helpful in getting good grades, meeting work expectations, and raising children. However, striving towards this idea of perfection is only hindering you. Worrying and walking a path towards being perfect has two main downsides.
The high bar ignores many accomplishments
Perfection is a ridiculously high bar and you would have to go through many obstacles to get there. This can take years and the obstacles include making sacrifices such as your time and energy. Every time you have an accomplishment, you are comparing it to the high bar you have set for yourself. At that point, any success is not as significant and does not bring you as much joy and pride as it should.
The student who strives to be extra excellent often misses out on fully celebrating their good report card. Some perfectionists do not take the chance to jump up and down with joy after graduating with a degree. We ignore these accomplishments because our ‘perfect’ plan is not yet complete. It can be scary to realize there are still years to go for that certificate, degree, license, etc. I mean, does it ever end? If your journey in academics is long, you might as well enjoy it.
Perfection makes you stuck
The other downside is that you might reach perfection and then get stuck in, what I like to call, a snow globe. If you become the perfect employee, you often become stuck in that position because you are perfectly filling the role. You are doing what the boss wants you to do and why would they want to move you from a position that you fill perfectly? It is easier for the powers that be to watch you in your snow globe, performing a set of tasks consistently. They will put the globe up on the shelf and that is where you will sit, likely beginning to collect dust.
When you reach perfection, you prevent yourself from becoming the most creative version of yourself. We can only become more creative by brainstorming, taking risks, and failing. The word ‘fail’ is making all perfectionists cover their ears and close their eyes because it sounds like nails on a chalkboard. I beg you to please hear me out. Everyone fails and failing helps us learn how to do something better than the last time.
Every time we look at something from a different angle, try a new approach, and fail, we learn something about ourselves. What we learn then helps us grow. People who are entrepreneurs, trailblazers, and super creative take risks and have failed. Although these people can reach great success in their career and relationships, they still are not perfect.
Be more creative
So how do you slip out from underneath the heavy pressure of perfectionism? Allow yourself to create, even if you need to push yourself to do so! Write down your hopes, interests, and dreams to help you contribute something unique to the world. Design a new system, invent a new product, compose a song, or write an article about what you know to be true.
If it is hard to create out of thin air, focus on something that you already like and change it. Add your flair to the dress, mix beats in the song, or deconstruct the model to reassemble it into something new. You might like what you created or you might hate it. Either way, you took a risk and absolutely learned something. Some lessons are small, tiny even, but they all add up to making big changes in our life. These changes make you a more unique person and not a perfect one.
Perfection can seem great, but remember that there are downsides. Consider ending your path towards perfection in order to grow beyond it. Instead, grow into someone who is more creative.
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Author: Angela Zender
Angela is a Qualified Mental Health Professional who helps others pick up an axe to break down the overwhelming wall of anxiety. She does virtual therapy with The Lighthouse Emotional Wellness Center and works with clients from all over the country. She uses grounding exercises, mindfulness, as well as cognitive behavioral therapy to help others heal their emotional wounds and live a more joyful life.