Mental Health Matters: Unlearning Perfectionism (I)

The word perfect used to permeate every aspect of my life. My former best friend believed my hair to be a weave because it was “always so perfect.” I’ve written before about how other friends shut down criticisms of my husband because they perceived him as “Mr. Rogers,” a human symbol of perfection. People believe our marriage to be perfect. While we believe we’re perfect for one another, a flawless union is impossible.

Accusations of my perceived perfection used to anger me, until I began looking closer at myself.

I used to put on lipstick just to take the trash out. I used to think long and hard before I opened my mouth for fear of sounding flawed. One reason I used to make a 360-mile, round-trip drive to a job was to prove I was good enough to be at what’s considered one of the top research universities in Florida. My perfectionist’s status was unconsciously crafted and maintained for decades.

But not anymore.

ae3e2302-12ce-4956-8558-b2d80c8cad6b-856-0000007d11cdc364I didn’t realize it at the time, but one way I ceased portraying perfectionism was when I went natural. Wearing my hair in its natural state helped with accepting myself as is. I had no idea how my hair would look or what I would need to do to maintain it. I literally had to learn to love how I looked every day, because with natural hair, your hair never looks the same two days in a row. I grew accustomed to strangers’ looks. I didn’t know if they were going to praise my hair or stare and remain silent. This helped me accept my whole self, no matter what, releasing an image of perfection.

Another thing that’s been helpful is arriving in public spaces in so-called socially unacceptable ways. I’ve done this at varied levels. Last year, Dwight and I were out of town and headed to have a drink in the hotel lobby. I didn’t feel like changing back into my clothes, so I joined him in my red Valentine’s Day leggings, Western Michigan University alumni sweatshirt, and old, tattered boots. I’m not sure how he felt about how I looked, and I didn’t care. Years ago, I would’ve feared who may see me in such a state, but not now. Now, I couldn’t care less. What does it matter how I show up to have a drink in a hotel lobby?

A third practice that limits perfectionism for me is focusing on myself in the here and now, without comparison. Yoga helps. With yoga, the concept is to do your best that day, which can change from just the day before. This idea allows me to accept myself as is in each moment. Just because I did the bomb pigeon pose last week doesn’t mean it will occur today. Also, I cannot be focused on standing on one leg, while worrying about how high yours is. It…is…impossible. I will surely fall over. I know because I’ve tried. In some ways, this has carried over to my life off the mat. Fall ’17 students may have thought I was the best, but Spring ’18 may not. That’s something I would’ve fretted over in the past. Today, I know it’s okay, as long as I did my best both semesters.

2a209f5d-90f7-4df8-af28-75ee0a59a925-1868-00000102153cd834Another thing that’s helped me accept my less than perfect self is to be intentional about what I’m doing and to focus on the process. Before, I was unconsciously stacking up achievements in an effort to be perfect in my own and everyone else’s eyes. As of 2015 and about 95% of the time, I consciously began choosing experiences aligned with my core being and that will benefit others in some way. While I would like for each outcome to be favorable, I’m no longer tied to the actual product. No matter what my mother tried to teach me, I now realize a perfect/imperfect product does not reflect me. Instead, I’m happy knowing that I began with a positive intention and had fun doing something I enjoyed, which, no matter what, will always turn out well for everyone’s best interest.

So, what say you? Do you have any suggestions for de-perfecting your life? I’d love to hear them.

17 thoughts on “Mental Health Matters: Unlearning Perfectionism (I)

  1. I wish my sister would read this and soak it in. Some things are just talked about and never started for fear of not being perfect. It’s crippling.

    I suggest being honest about what YOU want. Too often our perception of self comes from others when it should come from within first. I think the apprehension fades as you get better at defining yourself (the good and what needs improvement/not so good) and what you want.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I was never a perfectionist, but I did care terribly about what others thought of me and actively sought their approval. I was able to get past that only when I examined why I cares so much about what others thought (I didn’t think much of myself) and made a conscious effort to move past it. It was a process, but I’m getting there. And I was really proud of myself the first time I stopped at a grocery store on my way home from walking dogs at the shelter. You need to understand that on the mornings I walk dogs, I just get up, brush my teeth and hair, get dressed and go. Showering comes after I get home, because we get rather gross and dirty down there. So wandering about it public looking so ratty and possibly smelling like dog poop was a HUGE step forward for me! LOL!

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    1. I really thought I’d responded to this, but March 10th I was probably trying to figure out what is the coronavirus and should I be worried lol laughing, but really. Anywho, yes. Part of releasing perfectionism (for me) has been to let go of what ANYONE thinks, strangers, friends, coworkers, husband! I can definitely see how walking around smelling like dog poo would be liberating lol Sometimes we have to take baby steps towards de-perfectioning our lives, and other times we have to take huge leaps ❤

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  3. I relate to this in the way I focus upon creating art. As an illustrator, try to make something perfect usually resulted in overworking my art. The immediacy and simplicity was destroyed when I tried too hard and added too much. I’d end up having to start over and that was a good lesson.
    With music, I have learned well how to fix things and take out undesirable noise. With guitar, those squeaks are what makes it natural. With piano notes, if everything fits well on the grid with a click – then it sounds robotic. So I’m learning in this realm, that true beauty lies in a more natural approach.
    For myself, I feel like age is freeing. I am finding that I worry about how I look less and less!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Judy, I think creative endeavors are one of the best ways to practice un-learning perfectionism because no one is saying it shouldn’t be the best you have to give, right? It’s just that if you want it to be PERFECT, then sometimes you’ll never release it to the world (if that’s your objective) because it’ll never be perfect.

      That last bit about age is ABSOLUTELY true! I went back and forth about if aging is the reason why I care much less about looking perfect, or if it all just happened organically. I’m thinking it’s the latter, though. Like you, I’ve found it very liberating to simply look and be as I am. In a way, it’s kind of like your natural notes 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I think you might look at the word “perfect” the way I look at the word “should”.
    We tend to set ourselves up for failure when we have standards that are unreasonable, huh? For myself, I’m working on ignoring “the shoulds” and focus on if I’m progressing in a positive direction or not. Progress feels much nicer than the perfection I continued to fail at achieving.
    I always love your blog and your thoughts! Thank you for the provocation of thought.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. “Should” is a good way to think about this. A lot of times we think we should do something and it usually based on some made-up societal rule/image. Thanks for this comment and for your kind words 💜

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Well, Kate, I never considered myself perfect so had an easier start. If I am invited out I make an effort
    to dress for the occasion. I would probably never gone in leggings and sweat shirt. That said, neither would I dash and get a new dress and shoes.
    Funnily enough I wouldn’t start the day without a little perfume after the shower. We all have quirky things.

    miriam

    Liked by 4 people

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