Mental Health Matters: Unlearning Perfectionism (II)

medalPerfectionism also used to dictate how I showed up in personal and work relationships. There was a time when I did things because I wanted to be perceived as the best fill-in-the-blank person. For example, I wanted to be the best co-worker, so I overextended myself, attended meetings that had little value, and was always the first to complete a task. I wanted whatever director or department chair over me to see me as “the best.” Oftentimes, I functioned similarly with family. I wanted to be seen as the person whom everyone could count on, the person who my cousins could call no matter what. So, I visited for holidays even though it wasn’t ideal; I showed up with my family in tow, no matter how it impacted my household. This was due in part to the perfectionist identity I’d unconsciously developed.

But functioning like that bred resentment. There were many times when I would be the “best co-worker” and when it went unnoticed, I took it personally and grew bitter, wondering why no one acknowledged my extra efforts. Or better yet, I’d be mad because someone who’d done less received accolades for minimal activity. When we drove our family out of state year after year, I grew angry. Few family members ever planned holiday visits to my home.

woman standing near body of water

Around 2015, I stopped worrying about being the best co-worker, best family member, best friend, or best anything and started just being the best version of me for me. In action, this simply means that instead I focus on being present and doing the best I can in that moment. I avoid doing things that don’t physically or emotionally feel good or that cause my family or me distress. And the last thing I think about is how the other people to whom the answer is sometimes, “no” may feel.

Functioning this way takes practice and sometimes I lapse. For those times, I pause and become more conscious. For example, the chair of a committee I’m on sent an invite on a Sunday evening for a meeting that began at 5:00 PM on Monday. Not only was the meeting scheduled at the last minute, but it was also 20 minutes farther from where we typically meet, which would add on to my already hour and 45-minute commute. My first thought was to rearrange everything so that I could make the meeting. But then I stopped and asked myself why? Why am I doing this for someone who scheduled a meeting at the last minute? The only reason I would is to appear like the “best co-worker.” It had nothing to do with the value of the agenda. Instead of acquiescing, I simply told her I couldn’t make it. And you know what? The world did not end. I’m not fired. I’m still on the committee, and I saw them the following month.

I hope this isn’t confused with the idea of “doing your best.” No matter what I do, I give 100%. I’m fully present and invested. I’m just no longer concerned with being perceived as the best.

Unlearning Perfectionism Part I

35 thoughts on “Mental Health Matters: Unlearning Perfectionism (II)

  1. Great post, Katherin. I recently got labeled as an perfectionist again. All I do is simply my best and if someone perceive this as being a perfectionist, I think it is more about that person. XxX

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Of course not always… It can be wise to check with yourself first, if you fit the label and if so and you don’t like it, figure out what you can do to grow.
        However, often labels are given because the person either has expectations you don’t fulfill or they project their own shortcomings using a label.
        In my case, sure, sometimes that perfectionist-ish side of me bubbles up, that doesn’t mean I AM one. And in addition, I am not responsible for the expectations of others about me. So, I learned (work in progress) to let it go.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Well then, yes. If someone’s called you a perfectionist, then I agree. However, there are also characteristics of different “labels” that I think fit oneself, and of course, it’s only a problem if the person thinks it’s one…not outsiders.

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  2. You probably learned in your chakra practice that taming the ego can be immensely helpful in situations like you describe above. A compulsive perfectionist who needs to be ego stroked is not solving the problem.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I have this prob too – it can be so canny, hiding in the darkest little places… sometimes I remind myself that really, the most loveable (& successful!) folks are often the ones who seem to have no concept if caring about making mistakes!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. A looong time girl. I think that last part is important and goes perfectly with knowing why you’re doing something in the first place. If it’s for praise and ego stroking, then you’ll always be disappointed…if it’s because it’s something you want to do and value, then you’ll always look for the challenge and internal praise, I think.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I had a problem with perfectionism as regards to procrastination. I would delay work tasks, or never consider them to be finished, because to me they wouldn’t be perfect. To be so scared of making mistakes can be paralysing. I’m learning that it’s OK to be just – good enough.

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  5. I guess there are two sides to this perfectionism – pleasing ourselves or pleasing others. Being a people pleaser just isn’t all that satisfying. You’ve made a great shift, Katherin, to doing what works best for you!

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    1. I think so, Judy. For me, people-pleasing was a part of what kept perfectionism going. Thanks for noticing this. I think a lot of these ideas are so interconnected that sometimes when we abandon one, we release others (if that makes sense).

      And thanks for your kind words ❤

      Liked by 1 person

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