Posts Tagged ‘perfectionism’

Unlearning Perfectionism

Wednesday, June 29th, 2022

Of all the things that people tend to find out about me, one fact stands out in particular: I am a perfectionist. It’s written in my star sign (Virgo) and in practically every personality test I’ve taken, from the Myers Briggs Type Indicator to Buzzfeed quizzes. Even if you don’t believe in personality typing or astrology or superstitions, it’s written all over my daily actions.

There are times when it’s helpful to be a perfectionist. My teachers, for example, have praised my diligence since elementary school, so I’ve earned a lot of gold stars for my efforts over the years. But more often than not, I’ve found my perfectionism to be a burden, an obstacle in my daily routines. Yes, perfectionism has led me to score well in school, but I often find myself wondering whether the time I spent triple-checking my papers could have been invested into something more worthwhile, or at the very least more enjoyable.

The thing about perfectionism is that it isn’t a choice. I don’t choose to pick at even the most subtle details and comb through my papers for typos until my deadlines loom before me or I start spiraling into stress and self-deprecation. Perfectionism is a compulsion, a habit, a state of mind that pushes me to predict mistakes in every  situation, that convinces me that something isn’t right until I’ve made sure (multiple times!) that I’ve done everything correctly, that whispers in my mind that something must be wrong if things go too smoothly. Perfectionism is toxic, and most of all, perfectionism is demoralizing. 

A table at a charity book sale that I color-coded because I couldn’t stand the disarray.

I’ve found that unlike what people tend to assume, being a perfectionist doesn’t always mean investing 200% into my work, or writing and re-writing assignments until they reach that impossible golden standard. It doesn’t mean that I ace all of my classes, or that I don’t get tired of trying to do everything without mistakes. A lot of the time, perfectionism is losing the motivation to even get started on a project out of a fear of falling short. Perfectionism is lying in bed all day, thinking it would be better not to try than to prove myself incapable or inferior to the impossible standards I’ve imposed upon myself. Perfectionism is finding myself too afraid to even apply for opportunities that I desperately want, and pretending in the aftermath of missing out that I didn’t particularly want those things anyway. Perfectionism is lying to my friends and family about my goals and ambitions, because confiding in any of them means that I have just another person to disappoint. Perfectionism is choosing inaction.

I used to think that the worst case, in any situation, was failure. Whether that was embarrassing myself in a group activity, or performing poorly on exams, I was overcome with anxiety when it came time for any kind of evaluation. I cornered myself with a projected ideal of myself, an unrealistic version of a “successful” being, and lived under the stress of never being able to measure up. As I grew older and more cognizant of the ways in which perfectionism limits my actions, however, it has become apparent to me that my biggest loss has been the experiences that I backed out of before I could even get started. There are projects, internships, classes, and even relationships that I hid from because I believed that they would spiral rapidly out of control and somehow become a “stain” on my life’s record, proving once and for all that I really am as incapable as I feared. 

I’ve been actively trying to move away from this mental state, convincing myself that things aren’t nearly as disastrous as they may seem. I’ve started with actions of little consequence: checking my papers just twice instead of three times, going on outings in the city without planning every single step, allowing myself to get lost, and assuring myself that I am capable of working things out if they ever do go wrong, though they do so much less commonly than I tend to expect. I allow myself the space to panic or to feel nervous and afraid, but I also try to be stricter about relaxing, as contradictory as that may sound. I remind myself that the world is embroiled in unpredictability, and to hope for control in the midst of it all is a fruitless endeavor. Instead, I ask myself to surrender control, to remain flexible and adaptable to the ways of the world, and to renew my understanding of order within it all. 

There is too much to lose from feeling afraid of falling short. When I expect things to be perfect, I miss out on the world, but the world isn’t going to miss me. It might take a lot of time, effort, and patience, but perfectionism is just a habit. Habits can always be unlearned. 

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By: Fiona Lin

Fiona Lin is a rising senior at New York University’s Abu Dhabi Campus pursuing a double major in Literature and Creative Writing and Art and Art History. She enjoys traveling, drinking tea, and learning new languages. In her free time, you can find her reading web novels or playing video games.

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