I don’t remember how old I was when I first heard the word perfectionist. I do know that for most of my life, it has been one of my tags. Oh, Lindsay, you’re such a perfectionist. Said with a smile, maybe an undercurrent of admiration. Perfectionism is a good trait. It means you’re a hard worker, you’ll go the extra mile. You’re detail-oriented and responsible. Perfectionists are those over-ambitious, over-achieving Type As who become lawyers and doctors and CEOs.
Then why have I spent my life being crippled and debilitated by it?
Brene Brown’s work in her books Daring Greatly and The Gifts of Imperfection has given words to what I have known in my heart for so long: perfectionism is not about striving for excellence; it’s about never being enough.
Brown writes so many eye-opening and wise words about perfectionism in both of her books, but what has stuck with me has been this cycle that she identifies: please. perform. perfect.
I have had many conversations about the benefits of perfectionism and how I should be proud to be this way. It’s a good thing. I have high standards. I believe in excellence. And the Bible says we need to strive for excellence, to serve God with our very best.
The problem is, as Brown says, that perfectionism is not about striving to be our best; perfectionism is about striving to meet approval and other peoples’ expectations. And, as we all know, perfectionism is a myth, an impossibility. So a perfectionist is already set up to fail, the idea of which is completely devastating.
Perfectionism has hand-cuffed me. It has prevented me from starting things because the idea of not having it all mapped out seems to be reason enough not to begin. It has caused me to berate myself, to insult and abuse myself for not meeting unrealistic expectations. It has prevented me from benefiting from healthy feedback and constructive criticism because all I hear is the refrain, “not good enough, not good enough, not good enough.”
This beast will be hard to tame. It feels as natural to me as breathing, a very extension of myself, these perfectionistic tendencies.
But I’m not proud of it anymore.
It hasn’t made me a better spouse, mother, friend, daughter, co-worker.
It has governed me and debilitated me and run my life.
Let’s not look at it as a badge. Let’s not say with a shrug and a smile, “what can I say? I’m a perfectionist.” It’s not healthy. It’s not empowering. It is completely focused on finding the approval of others.
Perfectionism is a trap, an unhealthy trap that whispers to us, saying if we can please, perform and perfect we will be enough. We will win all the things. It whispers that those things are possible, when in fact, they are not.
Don’t listen to those whispers anymore. Don’t let the lies that you are not good enough seep into your bones. Don’t let it buckle you under any longer. You are not perfect. But you are good enough.
We always have been.