My Struggle with Perfectionism
Growing up I was a good student, a good ringette player, a good artist, an all-around good kid. As I got a little older and the trials of growing up began to come, I grew steadily more insecure. Some combination of rude kids at school, parental expectations, and an ever-increasing ruthless inner critic led me down the path of perfectionism.
Some of you may read the above and think so what, what’s wrong with being a perfectionist? I know once upon a twisted time I saw perfectionism as a strength, not a weakness! I believed that perfectionism was helping me reach my goals. Truly, all perfectionism was doing was enabling my unhappiness, my procrastination, and my criticisms of both myself and others. Not that I was entirely unhappy, but since actively working at putting my perfectionist side to rest (a task which may prove to be a lifelong endeavour) I now have greater levels of peace and joy. At the same time, while I still have moments of anxiety and negative self-talk, I have experienced a significant decrease in both these destructive habits.
While I do beleive many people struggle with perfectionism to some extent, it does seem to be a greater struggle for some than it is for others. While I can in no way claim to be an expert in this area, I have neither a degree in psychology nor have I spent any time researching perfectionism, I can speak to my own situation.
Somewhere in my teen years I decided that while I was good at a lot of different things, I was not really great at anything. I decided that, sure I had talents, but nothing special. By extension the deep inner truth became that I was nothing special. I did not recognize any semblance of greatness in me, and I had no idea which of my good skills was the one I should (or wanted to) passionately pursue. Rather than being thankful for being good I resented that I was not great. I decided that since I had no clear strongest strength I would determine which career path I would take in a logical manner. Which of the options seem wisest? Science seemed a more sure-bet than something arts based, a direction that would probably lead to greater financial stability, so science it was. Once I decided I would pursue a career in the sciences I meticulously scanned the ALIS listings of jobs, printed out a few favourites, narrowed it down and went for Medical Laboratory Science. Am I the only one that sees that as a decision based almost solely on logic as opposed to passion? While I do love science, and learning how things work, I am fairly certain that I did not choose science for the right reason. Whether I chose science, medical laboratory science in particular, for the right reason or not I dove into my studies with great effort. I always say I enjoyed my educational experience, which is mostly true, but if I am being perfectly honest there were many moments where I felt overwhelmed because of my perfectionist ways.
In some ways I think I temporarily lost part of myself in my pursuit of perfection and doing the best thing in every situation. I know I temporarily lost touch with some of my passions and talents, like writing and art, because there was simply not enough time for an incredibly “busy” science student to pursue artistic “hobbies.” Interestingly, some of my absolute favourite projects in university were the writing assignments. Funny how we cannot totally shut down an area of passion and interest!
It is funny how I can now see s clearly that I was lost. I am now on my way to being found, thank God.
For me the first step down the path towards freedom came when I finally accepted that I am not, nor will I ever be, enough. While that may sound defeatist, it is anything but! When I realized that I will never be perfect, I will always fall short in some way, it helped lift the striving out of my works. I value doing well, so I am certainly not implying that I gave up doing my best. Absolutely not. What I mean is when I was able to look at myself more objectively and less critically, I was able to realize that I will always fall short, and that is okay. I will never be perfect, or complete every task perfectly. While I did not begin this piece with the direct intent of sharing my faith, a great deal of my freedom from perfectionism has come as a direct result of my faith.
When I was able to step back and be vulnerable enough and weak enough to admit I need Jesus, my total reliance on Him loosened the death grip I had on control. I say it loosened the grip, but unfortunately it did not remove it. Surrendering my will and desire to control my circumstances is probably going to be another lifelong journey, but I am prepared for that. My strength and example is found in the one who gave it all, the only perfect human to ever walk the face of the earth. That very same perfect human paid the price for my shortcomings, so I can now stop attacking myself for my lack of perfection. I write that not only to encourage you, but to remind myself.
He paid for it, so stop beating yourself up and just be thankful!