Guest Writer: Erin Holloran
They say the best step to recovery is to first actually admit you have a problem. My problem is that I’m a perfectionist. In fact, I’m a neurotic perfectionist.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted only one thing: perfection. I wanted to be known as a perfect student, the perfect artist, the perfect friend, the perfect Christian. I wanted to be absolutely perfect in anything I decided to pursue.
But, I’ve always wanted everything perfect in my way and on my own terms. I’ve always hated asking for help, and receiving critique made me bitter. For whatever reason, I developed this nasty habit of associating asking for help or receiving critique as weakness and the complete opposite of perfection. After all, perfect people don’t ask for help, right? (Ha!)
Now don’t get me wrong; striving to be great at something is good. It’s what fuels drive and passion, and we should all be striving to be the best versions of ourselves that we can possibly be. But no one should really be living for perfection, especially if you’re letting your achievements define who you are.
For the past 21 years (so, basically my entire life) I’ve let perfectionism control my life, and it’s definitely done more harm than it’s ever done good. It’s resulted in living in a constant state of anxiety, bouts of depression, feeling like a constant failure and never really feeling “satisfied” with anything.
Only recently I’ve realized that it’s time I quit this habit of being “perfect” and instead strive to be the best person God has called me to be.
If you’re like me and you could consider yourself a “recovering perfectionist,” here is some of my advice that I’ve been collecting as I try and kick this habit to the curb.
One: start taking action
I am a master of it, and I’m only just now realizing that it’s a terrible thing. “How does procrastination relate to perfectionism?” you ask?
Simple. Perfectionists often fall into the trap of believing there is a “perfect time” for something (to study, an idea, to workout, etc.) and they fear starting because, well, it won’t be perfect the first time. But seriously, just start already! Instead of desperately trying to be perfect the first time, improve as you go. Trust me, it’s a hard thing to do, but I’ve found the things that gave me anxiety no longer do because I’m not procrastinating, and instead of trying to get it perfect on round one, I improve them over time.
Two: Stop fearing critique or help
This is another difficult one to get over, but we are designed to live in community and we all have wisdom and knowledge in some area. Stop thinking someone is “out to get you” and wants to witness you fail. In fact, most people want to help you and see you succeed. Stop viewing it as a sign of weakness or stupidity or whatever. You should be asking questions and for advice, and in the end it’s only going to help you be a better version of yourself.
Three: Stop beating yourself up
I don’t care if it’s because you failed a test, missed the gym for a week or some past mistake—do not beat yourself up. Take that failure and learn from it. Ask yourself, “What can I learn from this?” and then apply that lesson to future situations to help you succeed.
But, for the love of all things holy, stop telling yourself you’re a complete failure. Everyone fails at some point, and to believe otherwise only leads to unhealthy thoughts.
Four: Celebrate the small victories
Start celebrating more. Seriously. Did you cross everything off your super long to-do list today? Celebrate that. Did you get a B+ on a test in that really hard class you studied hours for? Congratulate yourself. Did you manage to shave 15 seconds off your mile run? Pat yourself on the back. Instead of beating yourself up for not living up to your “perfect state,” remind yourself you may not be perfect but you sure as heck are improving. And that’s worth celebrating.
Having goals and being the best version of yourself is a good thing. Obsessing over being perfect, as a you probably can guess by now, is not. I’m learning that, as humans, we never will truly reach perfection, but we do have a God who is perfect and constantly extends us his grace and strength. We don’t have to live chained to the idea that we have to be perfect, but instead can strive to be the best version of ourselves God has called us to be.
Erin is a biology major from Byfield, Massachusetts.