I’m a recovering perfectionist and this is what I’ve learned about letting go

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For years I refused to accept anything less than perfection in many areas of my life. 

As a passionate career woman I demanded the highest standards of myself when it came to accomplishment and refinement. Anything less and I assumed people would think I didn’t care about my work or myself.

For many of us, perfectionism surfaces most strongly within our career, but it often doesn’t stay there. Alongside having the ‘perfect’ career you might also find yourself aspiring to have the ‘perfect’ body, diet, car, house, clothes or haircut. 

Or be the ‘perfect’ boss, worker, team player, daughter, son, parent, friend or colleague. The list is endless and will shift and change depending on the labels we attach to ourselves. 

It took me many years to realise that, more often than not, the pursuit of ‘perfection’ means we’re constantly striving towards an ideal that can never be reached. This inner battle and race keeps us distracted from focusing on what really matters to us. 

If you desire to live life on your terms – a life that reflects your true desires and brings you happiness – perfectionism could be the major roadblock that’s getting in your way. 

One day, I decided my mindset had to change. I was tired of chasing ever-increasing standards. I wanted to feel good and proud of myself and my work.

Here are five things I’ve learned about perfectionism along the way: 

It creates stress and frustration

Perfectionism means constantly chasing impossible standards. When we can only accept outcomes that are within a rigid box, trying to control people and circumstances becomes our preferred way of operating.

Guess what? We can’t control everything. Thinking we can or should sets us up for failure and frustration in ourselves, in our work and in other people. 

It means we are more likely to focus on flaws instead of talents, leading us to exist with the belief that nothing is ever good enough. This is incredibly tiresome and substantially erodes our self-worth. 

It damages relationships

Just as trying to control creates heightened stress in ourselves, being controlled feels even worse. 

When we try to push others into meeting our narrow expectations we end up behaving in ways that pressure, judge and criticise others. And nobody wants to experience this. 

Tension rises, resentment festers and relationships are damaged. This dynamic ironically takes us further away from ‘perfect’.

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It’s controlling 

Have you ever stopped to wonder where your ideas of perfection come from? It’s often from society. 

Consider what you currently see as perfection. Now think of the people, bodies, jobs, situations, environments and lifestyles that are on the opposite end of this spectrum. 

When we commit to tirelessly working towards social ideals of perfection, we are implicitly voting ‘Yes’ to the structures that keep so many people in states of never feeling good enough. 

Vote ‘No’ by refusing to use these surface-level standards as a way to measure our self-worth and our lives.

It’s impossible to achieve 

As you might have started to realise, one person’s perfection is another person’s failure. The verdict? Perfection doesn’t exist. 

With nuanced layers and constantly shifting social expectations, even our own idea of ‘perfect’ is constantly changing, which is already a counter to the idea of perfection itself. 

For many dedicated perfectionists, the goalposts are always placed a little out of reach. In some cases each new level of achievement comes with a new expectation of perfection that we continue to strive for. 

This effect reconfirms the internalised belief that nothing is ever good enough and life is simply a series of opportunities to do, look and be ‘better’. An escape from this self-constructed hamster wheel starts with asking yourself the difficult question: “When, where and how do I stop?”

It cuts off new learning 

Let’s say we did reach our ideal of ‘perfect’ – what happens next? If we believe there is a way to arrive at completion in any aspect of our life, we cut ourselves off from deeper learning, understanding and experiences. 

If we want to be a lifelong learner and live our life to the fullest, we have to love the mess, the chaos and the uncertainty of the process. We have to let go of the notion that there exists a state where all is ‘perfect’, a state where no more learning, amending, adjusting, tweaking (and therefore growth) is needed.  

About the author

Heidi HauerHeidi Hauer is a holistic health and life coach who specialises in helping women to turn heartbreak into happiness. 

With qualifications in nutrition and coaching combined with nearly 20 years’ experience in the corporate world, Published author Heidi supports clients in boosting their self confidence and achieving success across their career, health and relationships. 

She has been featured in international media such as The Guardian, MailOnline and Thrive Global. She has also appeared on podcast shows speaking to women across the world. 

Earlier this year she released The Queendom Within – Rewrite Your Fairy Tale and Create Your Own Happily Ever After. 

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