Why I Decided To Confront My Perfectionism
I have had anxious tendencies since my brain started recording memories. In my case, this was when I was three years old. When I was about five, I was leafing through some photos my mom had just gotten developed at the local pharmacy. I looked at one of me playing in the living room with my Fisher Price Brilliant Basics Corn Popper and thought, My cheeks look so fat.
Thus, the little perfectionist was born. After that, I expressed high levels of perfectionism in my school work (and then my career), my parents’ approval, communications with others, how people perceived me, dusting the treasures of my childhood bedroom every Saturday, learning every single Princess Leia Organa line in the original Star Wars movies…
As an adult, I have honed these perfectionist characteristics. In fact, I have several obsessive-compulsive personality disorder traits. I have ravished my own self-esteem when I have had accidental typos in work emails, needed to edit a social-media post, and spoke up in a meeting and sounded “stupid.” All of us have experiences in our lives that shape us, and a lot of my experiences made me more of a perfectionist with an anxious personality and prone to panic attacks when my perfection seemed to unravel. I’ve had bad relationships, poisonous work situations, and uncomfortable conversations that have made me question myself.
After all, my brain viewed the lack of perfectionism as the end of the world as I knew it. No matter that it was slowly killing my motivation and making me into a caricature of who I actually was.
Why did I decide to manage my perfectionism, you ask? Well, two years ago, I was drowning in work-life balance, with work overtaking my every waking moment. So many stressors plagued me, and I was becoming more negative by the day. I wanted to end this toxicity entering my brain by becoming more mentally healthy. So I made some life changes, such as owning my own business, that have helped me on my journey to happiness and self-acceptance.
When Carrie Fisher passed away in December 2016, I knew what I must do: I must also help spread the word about mental-health issues and how to manage them. Fisher was one of my idols — since I was that little seven-year-old perfectionist quoting Princess Leia lines and reading all I could about Fisher and her life.
Here are some ways you can start to manage your own perfectionism — or any other mental-health issue holding you back from living your best life:
Embrace your quirks. Everyone is different. Stop trying to be like everyone else and complying with what they expect from you. As a natural people pleaser, this is still challenging for me. Don’t hide who you are. If you don’t want your business to go in a certain direction, don’t do it. No matter what others say. If attending five family events in one day overwhelms you, then don’t try to make all of them. Do what makes you happy and learn from your strengths and weaknesses. Accept them with little self-judgment.
Seek help. I resisted help for so long. I could “handle it,” after all. I had all the answers. Only, I didn’t. So, I talk with those close to me about what I am feeling and have sought professional help. If you’re anxious about asking for help (all perfectionists tend to be that way), then visit a website like betterhelp.com. They have resources and mental-health professionals to help you wade through your perfectionism and get on your own right track.
You can help others just like you. Once you get the help and support you need, you will be able to help others like you. For me, having anxiety has made me a stronger person. It took me ages to realize and accept this fact, but if I can survive a panic attack, I can honestly survive anything. They are scary, and in their most volatile moments, I have felt like my heart is going to burst from my chest. But I survived to fight for another day and the rest of my life. When I have children, I will talk about anxiety with them. Also, joining an online community can help you talk with others just like you. Women For One provides stories of mothers, survivors, leaders, scholars, sisters, friends, and daughters—and even a few brave men. Find your own support network.
You will open an entire world to new experiences and learn about yourself. How do you know what you are capable of if you allow your fears to control you? Learn to work past your anxiety in a way that works best for you. For example, when I am feeling anxious, I open my journal and begin to write. It helps me work through my thoughts and learn more about my behavioral patterns, thoughts, and feelings. Realizing what scares you to death and choosing to work through those fears will be liberating. You could find yourself in your dream vacation spot, although you are afraid of airplanes. You could present data from your own small business to a room full of investors—no matter your innate fear of public speaking. The possibilities are endless, and I am living proof that you can still achieve your dreams as you work through your perfectionism and anxiety.
Once you accept that nothing can be perfect, you will embrace your imperfection and achieve more happiness.