Fresh out of high school I decided to attend Art school at a nearby university. I was excited, I thought I was good and wanted to learn more. However; competition was fierce and critiques were disappointing. The realization that I wasn’t as good as I thought I was broke my heart. Every piece I did was for the instructors, trying to be what they wanted me to be. I hadn’t learned the design process yet so every composition was the first thing I thought of. It was never as good as I wanted it to be. My insides were screaming ‘why isn’t this working! Why aren’t I good enough?’
Art school ended up only being one year of my life as I followed a different career path for more practical reasons (like making money) but that should not have been the end of my painting. What I considered failure led to feelings of negative self worth and kept me from picking up my paint brush for a long time. Now years later, some tough learning and the wonderful gift of hind sight, I can see the destructive power that perfectionism can have on one’s success.
Perfectionist = Giving up if you can’t do it right
The first realization that my daughter was a perfectionist, like me, was when she was coloring and started throwing fits because she couldn’t color inside the lines…. she was only two! (Shock) It has been a battle dealing with episodes and melt downs because she was trying to do (most of which was out of her age range) what she saw others doing and expected to do them too-as good as them. Often in her deepest meltdowns she would lay down and give up. If she couldn’t get it right she wasn’t going to do it at all.
Thinking back to all my own history I couldn’t help but see moments where I had done the same. (Minus the tantrums) As a perfectionist, the expectations I put on myself have been so high. How unfair to place that pressure upon oneself. The expectation is unrealistic and damages our perspective on what we think is possible.
I have taught my daughter that with mistakes comes practice, hard work and effort. That was missing from my own life. I often wonder what I missed out on by giving up on those things that were difficult. Yes, I may have made a bunch of mistakes along the way but the effort to obtain any goal moves us to become better people.
Perfectionist = trying to be good at everything
When I was younger I thought I had to be good at everything. Even things I did not care about. I would often hear someone sing, or see someone’s craft skills, or how amazing they were at making people laugh, I would expect to be as good as they were. This attitude, unfortunately, does not bring happiness. When we think we should be the best, all we do is compare ourselves to everyone around us. (I was comparing myself to other students way back in art school, no wonder I hated what I was doing) We even compare ourselves to people who are amazing at that one thing and have worked their whole life practicing that, and here we are with no history of doing it and expecting to be as good or better.
No good can come from this as we will always feel insufficient. I have found as I focus on what I’m really passionate about and worry less about the other things, life feels less stressed. I can enjoy the things I like to do and excel at the real goals in my life. When we focus on what we love we are able to develop our abilities instead of spreading ourselves thin trying to keep up with everyone else.
Perfectionist = Fear of failure
I just started this blog, I don’t really know anything about blogging but I wanted an outlet to share my passions while at home with my kiddos. It has taken forever for me to actually put pen to paper. (Yes, I’m old school) I’m so excited about my ideas and plans, but terrified about putting myself out there for the world to see. The fear comes from my expecting so much of myself and wanting everything to be perfect before I post anything. When I think of not being able to meet my goals, those fears all too often overwhelm and squash all the excitement.
As perfectionists, we fail a lot, (or what we consider failure) eventually all that failure leads to an unyielding fear of failure. Yet, if we accept failure as part of our journey we can use it as a learning tool. I keep telling myself that I will learn how to blog as I go, I don’t need to know everything before I press post. And I cannot let the fear of failing keep me from doing what I want to do.
Failure will come to us all. From it we learn what we did wrong, and how we can do better. What we gain from failure can motivate us to keep going when life gets tough.
How to overcome perfection?
I’m not sure if being a perfectionist is something I can change. I can change my attitude and stay positive when faced with difficulty, but I have a feeling that those attributes will never come naturally. I will always need to work on it. Which makes me think, maybe perfection isn’t something I should just stop aiming for. The traits of a perfectionist, after all, do drive me to always be working for a better me. Perhaps a simple perspective change.
Instead of expecting perfection from everything we do right now, look, instead to the future. One day all our hard work and effort will show its worth. Instead of expecting perfection now, expect hard work. Expect patience, expect failure and expect others to do as well as you and be happy for them. Love what you do and who you are and stop expecting the perfection to happen now. I don’t think I will ever be perfect in the sense of the word. But I hope I will have achieved what I set out to do, succeeded and overcome.
If you have struggled with being a perfectionist or have found a way to use it for good, let me know in the comments.