Perfectionism, why you need it and when you don’t

Perfectionism. We all have heard of it. It’s something that can drive many people to despair and inadequacy. Yet, it’s something that we need.

I was often called a perfectionist, but for many years I didn’t recognize it in myself. At one point in my life I saw how it started to affect me in a negative way. I was often dissatisfied with whom I was and feeling bad and sad because of it. I would lay down at night and go over everything I did wrong that day, and go to bed feeling awful. I was doing this day after day for years. I was stuck feeling bad for not being perfect. Every day we all make mistakes, yet I couldn’t accept who I was and what I was doing.

I loved receiving help from a therapist to help me recognize that I was stuck on a negative pattern . The way I was able to overcome it, was by realizing that I wasn’t taking the time to see the good that I was doing and how even when I made mistakes, my intentions had been good. I learned that there is redemption from mistakes and that we can try again.

I remember during this time as I was trying to accept myself, I had work on almost not trying to improve myself, but rather be ok with who I was.

Eventually the time came for me to add another layer to this. It’s kind of funny how it happened. I remember one night watching tv and seeing Fredrik Eklund on Million Dollar Listing. My husband and I are realtors, so we love watching that show. Fredrik often mentioned in the episodes how he strived for perfection and expected perfection in many aspects of his career. Could it be that perfectionism could be turned into a powerful and positive weapon?

I eventually came to realize that it is in our nature to strive for perfection. And while we need to accept that we will not get there in this life, but rather in the life to come (as said by President Nelson of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day-Saints), perfectionism is what constantly pushes me forward. We need this drive to help us to want to be more. To expect more of ourselves and to succeed. By striving for excellence in all that we do, we achieve great things.

The secret is to not beat ourselves up in the process if we don’t succeed. The secret behind it is to learn to laugh at our mistakes, and enjoy ourselves if we are not yet where we want to be. And many times we will not be where we want to be quite yet. Most of what we do is a process and a journey and we need to remember to laugh along the way, give ourselves more chances, and not be so critical of ourselves. But look at our intentions and trust that we truly mean well and that we can correct any issue or problem that may come along the way or that we might get ourselves into.

Perfectionism can be a strength in a way that it drives us, takes us places. Perfectionism is what can require us to be more, is what can push us to achieve the life that we dream of.

I was reading this week a quote from Elder Ballard that said: “Brothers and Sisters may you have the courage to change what you need to change in your lives.” To work towards being better people we need to change. We came to this earth to constantly improve and demand more of ourselves. We just need to do that with more love. Because as we do so, we allow ourselves to keep going without a lot of guilt, criticism, discouragement, and fear. If we are kind to ourselves, we will be more accepting when we make mistakes, and we will be more willing to try even harder, different, new things, and we won’t be there to beat our own selves up when we fall in the process. Sometimes the only person to greet us when we make a mistake with a scornful pointed finger is only our own self.

I can say that working on managing perfectionism is a process. But I can say that this drive and push can become our ally. Can become that voice that reminds us where we need to go next. What we need to pursue and where we want to be. I have been learning to be grateful for my perfectionism and my drive to be more. That discontent that has pushed me to pursue things that I feared and things that I never thought I could achieve on this lifetime. Things that I thought didn’t belong to me to try. Things that pushed me forward, and in the end made me more satisfied in who I was.

So whether physically, spiritually, or mentally do we feel a desire to change, I hope we can find realistic goals and strive to achieve them. I am not talking about having unrealistic expectations, such as trying to look like my 16 year old me, or going faster than I have strength. But that I can seriously achieve way more than I feel capable of, that is true, and that I can push myself to do many things and change to become who I desire, that is true as well. I know that as long as I accept myself in the process, and love myself even when I fail and forgive myself, I can keep trying and I can take that strive for excellence and use it to create things that are well done!

Photo courtesy Jenna Elizabeth Photography

Love, M. Serena Essuman

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