It’s a beautiful Sunday afternoon. Sydney’s turned on the sunshine, forgetting that in Autumn it should be cooling down. It’s not supposed to be 26 degrees in April. I am enjoying this bright Sunday by sitting behind a computer screen, attempting to finish an assessment that isn’t due until Monday. Next Monday.
You may think I’m crazy for letting this day slip away. To be honest, I think I’m crazy for letting the last few rays of summer slip away. But I can’t help it. I really can’t.
You know when you go on holiday and you make absolutely no plans. You just want to sip on cocktails and feel relaxation flood through your body. You wake up whenever you want, you sleep whenever you want. My holidays don’t look like that because I can’t relax. Ever. And that is a feature of my deliciously bitter-sweet perfectionist personality.
It has its perks. It allows me to apply myself to a task at hand with a dogged and unwavering focus. It allows me to read a piece of text over and over and over again until I understand it. It allows me to write in fairly precise manner (sometimes spelling and grammar mistakes do get through). It allows me to finish assignments and work on tasks days before they’re due. But it has its downfalls.
Being a perfectionist also means I am extremely hard on myself. I’m my own harshest critic. Noone could ever be as critical of me as I am of myself. The things I say to myself on a weekly basis I couldn’t imagine saying to another human being.
Being a perfectionist also means that nothing I do ever feels good enough. When I was first published on Huffington Post Australia I was, of course, elated. Having a piece of work published on a website I admire was humbling . But that sense of pride didn’t last long. Any compliment I received I brushed off with embarrassment. “It’s nothing,” I mumbled. “A fluke.”
I’m proud of that achievement but in true perfectionist style I started striving for ‘greater’, whatever ‘greater’ is.
Being a perfectionist means I crave the approval of others. When I find out someone doesn’t like me I need to find out why. What is it that I’ve done? How can I be different? I ask why I’m not good enough instead of accepting that the problem may lie with the other person.
Being a perfectionist means I can’t leave tasks unfinished. I have to meet my goals. Why? Because my brain said so. And I must be a failure if I don’t.
Being a perfectionist means I go at 100 or 0 and there’s nothing in between. It’s absolutely exhausting. It means that when I set my mind to a task I give it everything. I have to be the best. Because, in my mind, if I can’t be the best why try?
This means that sometimes I won’t try for fear of failing. A prime example of this was when I dropped Maths in year 12. Maths was never something I enjoyed. It never made me excited. Throughout Year 11 I was enjoying Maths until Calculus hit. I didn’t get it. I still don’t get it. I gave up and I dropped Maths altogether.
This past week has been a real test for me. I wrote an article for Mamamia about the shame behind breaking veganism. Considering the emotional subject matter of the topic I expected some heated discussion. I wasn’t prepared for the onslaught of negative comments about my writing and my alleged youthful ignorance.
Being a perfectionist, hearing that your work is a piece of “shit journalism” is the ultimate failure. Every achievement I’ve made and every positive comment I’ve received completely dissolves. One bad review is all it takes to unravel months of hard work and dedication.
It’s been a year, almost to the day, since I started my recovery journey and it’s clear that my perfectionist tendancies still have a strangle hold on me. Perfectionism hasn’t been a contributor to my success, it’s suppressed it. My desire for things to be “just right” limits my creativity and authenticity. My need for everything to be perfect prevents me from participating in things that I enjoy.
I need to learn how to let go and let be. If this week has taught me anything it’s that I can’t please everyone and I shouldn’t strive to please everyone. I need to practise accepting “good enough.” My life isn’t perfect. It never will be perfect. Because there is not such thing.
I’m breaking up with perfectionism because the cons outweigh the pros. It burned me out after Year 12. It compromises my ability to enjoy what I have and what I’ve achieved. It cooped me up inside when it was 26 degrees on an April Sunday.
So, perfectionism, it’s been nice knowing you. It’ll take me a while to get over you completely and I may text you now and then when I forget why we broke up. But it’s over. For good.