Navigating Perfectionism


Tomorrow I fly to Auckland to do a TV interview. Thankfully I’m not as nervous this time around having now done one I feel slightly more comfortable knowing what to expect. You can watch my last TV interview on Imposter syndrome here. What you can’t see is that out of shot my legs were shaking!

The producer told me after the show ‘that was great, can you pitch us some more ideas and we’ll have you back on’ so I did but heard nothing. I thought perhaps she was being nice or said that to all the guests (Imposter Syndrome in action – right there!) but then they got back in touch recently and here I am now preparing for an interview on perfectionism on TV3s The Café this week. 

This is something I know well. I remember as soon as the last interview was over the first thing I did was re-read my script to see what I’d missed, which bits could have been better and the parts that had not gone perfectly – do you find yourself doing that with meetings, presentations, conversations with family?

We are all on a mission to be the best we can be, to be happy, to have the perfect houses, families, partners, and jobs, to complete our to-do lists, to complete our bucket lists, to make our parents proud, to get promoted, earn more money, and be successful. Good enough is no longer enough. We live in a world where we are so developed, we can have everything and instant gratification. Normal is what we have, but it’s not what we want to settle for—it’s no longer enough. We expect to have everything and for the fairy tale to be a reality, and it won’t be. We set ourselves up to fail; our imperfect lives (which are the best they can be) are never going to be perfect. We aim for perfection and are then disappointed because it never arrives.

Woman are good at being perfectionists; this comes from our need to please people but also our very high standards and expectations of ourselves. It can be a strength and what makes us good at what we do, but can also be our undoing. It’s where we set ourselves up to fail, expect too much, and lose touch with reality, and where the barrier actually is, often we raise it far higher than it needs to be. 

Perfectionism is also our fear of failure manifesting. Sometimes we’re so scared of not making the mark or falling short that we go way over what’s necessary to make sure we don’t fail. Whether we’re applying for a job, having our hair done, going to the gym, or just doing our day jobs. We want to be the perfect parents, workers, friends, and partners; we want to look like a perfect cover of a magazine and live in perfectly clean, tidy houses with perfect lawns. 

Rather than settling for a standard “good enough,” we find our “good enough” can be way over real expectations. So on a scale of 100 percent, where 80 percent is good enough, perfectionists feel they have to deliver 120 percent—that’s their good enough. Even 100 percent, in a perfectionist’s eyes, is failure, despite this exceeding good enough on the scale.

It’s not about lowering our standards, but being more realistic and understanding that sometimes as a perfectionist, our bars will be set way higher than everyone else’s and higher than they need to be. It’s exhausting and often leads to disappointment when we fail. Sometimes done is better than perfect, because perfect isn’t always possible.

If we have our hearts set on perfection, we’re setting ourselves up to fail. Things don’t exist in a perfect way. It may seem like this when we compare our lives to others on Facebook or celebrity magazines, but what we see is the perfect side of what is always an imperfect life. For everyone, no matter how rich or successful, imperfection is always present. There will be parts of their lives not going to plan, a bit about themselves they’d like to change, something outside of their control that upsets them.

When we meet our soul mate everything seems perfect until the novelty wears off. We get to know each other better and find out that as humans we all have imperfect flaws. We may not always agree and be less tolerant of our differences. New jobs have bits we don’t like, and even our bodies age and change in ways we don’t view as perfect eventually. Adjusting our mind-set on perfection is key to helping us thrive. If you aim to look like an airbrushed picture in a magazine, you’ll be disappointed. If you’re looking for a Mr. Right without any faults, you’ll also be disappointed. If you’re searching for the perfect job, you’ll find there are always downsides; this is true for me, even now with the job of my dreams—I have to spend time doing my accounts and marketing! If you make plans, they won’t always turn out right. It’s not being negative; it’s being realistic! Rather than aiming for an unrealistic goal of perfection, we need to be more realistic and enjoy everything for the good that it brings to our lives. Everything has its perfect and imperfect side—our jobs, our partners, and our lives. Embrace and appreciate both sides!

I spent years striving for perfection in all I did, at work and at home, trying to conform in a bid to please people, and it made me unhappy and unfulfilled. The perfect life always seemed just out of reach, and yet my life on the outside might have looked ideal to everyone else. During my life transformation I learned a lot about myself and learned, from others about how we can live an authentic, perfectly imperfect life:

  • Things won’t always go according to plan.

  • The to-do list will never be complete.

  • You’re doing the best you can with what you’ve got, and that is as perfect as it can be.

  • No one has a perfect life (despite what it may look like on Facebook or in a magazine).

  • Happiness is not a point you arrive at in the distant future when you resolve all your problems and achieve perfection. It’s available all along in those imperfect moments scattered throughout our everyday lives.

  • Often, it’s our quest for perfection that stops us from being happy.

So give yourself permission to make mistakes and stop beating yourself up for being human. Ask for help when you need it, say no from time to time and stop worrying about what people think. It means we’ll take more risks, get more done and accept our life just the way it is – perfectly imperfect.