Are you a perfectionist? Do you struggle with trying to match your own perfectionist standards?
In my experience, perfectionism or the pursuit of trying to be perfect can really hold us back and stop us achieving our dreams. We get so caught up in trying to do everything perfectly, not just to the best of our ability, but way beyond what is realistic. So much so that we either burn out completely or never get started in the first place through fear of failure.
If you are like me, a mum prone to perfectionism, then read on…
WHEN PERFECTIONISM CAN BE A BAD THING
Perfectionism can be a bad thing because it sometimes brings out our negative traits, that hold us back, stop us from doing things or make us disproportionately down and despondent when things don’t go right or we don’t perceive them as good enough.
For those perfectionists amongst you, do any of the following sound familiar?
- Fear of failure and getting it wrong
- All or nothing approach – if I can’t do it perfectly then there’s no point starting or doing it at all
- Desire to be in control – if it’s perfect then I know I’m totally in control
- Fear of being out of control – if it’s not perfect then it’s beyond my control and I can’t cope with that
- It’s never good enough – constantly chasing and pushing to achieve perfection and putting yourself down when you feel it’s not perfect enough
- Procrastination – putting off decisions to do something because you worry about not being able to do it as well as you want
- Unrealistic expectations – setting standards and goals that just aren’t possible to achieve (either at all, or without making big sacrifices)
On top of that, I think that mums who are perfectionists can also have an extra set of issues to contend with, beyond the ones that we unwittingly put upon ourselves.
We have to be careful not to pass on our unrealistically high standards and strive for perfection in a way that is negative and harmful to our children.
They don’t need or want to see you get so upset when you’ve tried to do something and failed, only for you to say that you’re giving up on it because it’s not the way you wanted it. What kind of lesson is that for our children?
We know that we should be encouraging them to keep trying hard, not give up, do their best and be proud of the results as long as they’ve done all that they can. It’s a wonderful thing to have aspirations, goals and targets. To try new things, take on challenges, continually develop our skills, learning, experience and knowledge. To expand our horizons.
It’s true that your efforts as a perfectionist, no matter what area, are in many ways a great thing for your kids to see. You are setting a positive example to them, being a good role model and something that they can aspire to be like.
If you’re on your own with no other responsibilities in life, it’s way easier to be a perfectionist!
You can dedicate as much time as you choose to achieving your goals with fewer interruptions. You can put your focus, time and mind where you need it. And, no-one will be able to see your personal fall-out when, and if, it doesn’t go as well as you want.
When you are a mum and you have children who have such an impact and effect on your life, then you’re just not able to have so much control or maintain the practices needed to be a perfectionist.
For example, you have less time, more stuff on your to do list and you are responsible for more, thus pulling you in lots of different directions.
You just aren’t able to dedicate yourself to being a perfectionist!
WHAT I’VE LEARNT IN MY PURSUIT OF PERFECTION
I’ve learnt so many lessons in my life-long pursuit of perfection, particularly since I became a mum as my commitments are greater and I’m conscious that my children follow and learn from my example.
- Life is a journey, no experience is ever wasted, whether you finish or not, whether you achieve 100% or not
- Every challenge is a learning opportunity about life and about ourselves
- It’s not just the final destination that matters but learning (and failing) teaches us just as much
- Don’t give up on something because it’s not going perfectly, you’ll have gained something even if you didn’t achieve it to your perfectionist standards
- Consider the drain on your emotions when you are constantly trying to achieve perfection, running on adrenaline and putting yourself at risk of total burnout. Is it worth it and what would be the impact on you and your family?
- What happens when it goes wrong? Do you plunge into despair and beat yourself up because it’s something you’ve done wrong when actually it might be nothing to do with you but instead down to other factors beyond your control or that you couldn’t foresee?
- Does it really matter if you’re perfect or does anyone else even notice? For example, who cares if your home has a bit of dust. Will anyone notice but you? Surely visitors are there to see you, not your home!
- Come to terms with the fact that you can’t be in control or a perfectionist about every single part of your life. It’s virtually impossible to prioritise everything in your life or on your to do list. If you have to be a perfectionist because that’s at the core of who you are, then why not pick one or two things with which you can try to attain near perfection? For a while, learn to let go of the rest and be content with a “I’ve tried my best and it’s good enough for now” attitude. It may take time but this is such a liberating experience and takes a massive weight off your shoulders! I think it gets easier with practice too! Use the resources you’ve freed up (energy, time, possibly financial) by doing this in another, more productive way.
- Remember that families, children and life come in stages, you constantly have to adapt and change. You’ll never get things perfect as life doesn’t stay still long enough.
- Never let your pursuit of perfectionism stop you doing things. For example, you may want to start learning the piano. So, don’t set out to be a concert pianist, maybe just learn for fun, so you can play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star whilst your kids sing along. It’s fun, you’re still learning and you can be proud of doing it.
PRACTICE NOT BEING PERFECT!
Deliberately leave some clothes out on a chair instead of putting them in your wardrobe. Let a room stay slightly messy for a while and fight the urge to make it neat. Walk out of the house without doing the dishes.
How did it make you feel? Practice it. Did it really make such a difference to you in the end?
Spend quality time, energy and money on living intentionally with your family. Learn to ignore any negative emotions that resurface from time to time when you realise that things aren’t as perfect as you want them to be. Instead remember that life is meant to be lived, in the moment, with an eye on the future.
Don’t waste it trying to achieve the unachievable, all the while missing out on the life you have right now.
SEEK PROGRESS NOT PERFECTION
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we should be happy with not trying hard, or pushing ourselves to do the very best, or not have dreams and goals and a desire to succeed. These are all fantastic qualities, make us ambitious for the future and set a great example for our children.
But, I would encourage you to think about progress, not perfection. Aim high but realistic, set a good example, do a good job and always do your best.
If you’re a working mum for example, recognise that sometimes your focus will be 90% work, 10% family, other times it will be 90% family, 10% work. Go with the flow and whatever needs prioritising at the time.
Life is about constantly learning, changing, adapting, taking on new challenges, flying by the seat of our pants.
Sometimes we get it right, other times we get it wrong but it’s the journey, the progress, that counts. What we learn when we fail can be just as important as what we learn when we succeed.
Above all remember, seek progress not perfection!
Here are some other blog posts which I’ve written that you might find helpful…