Beware the poison of perfectionism


mountain at night

“It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe.” ~ Muhammad Ali

It’s true. Challenges great and small we can handle. It’s the little things we carry “in our shoes” that wear us out. Because they’re not so little as they appear.

These things are many. We can’t climb or even walk for that matter if we sabotage ourselves with, among other things, perfectionism cemented in our expectations. Not only do we end up creating pain and misery, but we get literally stuck because no path ends up ever good enough to be trusted and pursued to the end.

I didn’t think I was a perfectionist. At least no more than anyone else. Until I discovered that I, just like pretty much everyone else, suffer from at least occasional bouts of perfectionism, particularly when facing a great challenge. The consequences are sabotaged efforts, stagnation in ruts of various types, and loss of trust in pretty much everything positive that has, is or stands to happen.

Of course setting high goals and standards is healthy. We are constantly encouraged to aim for the stars, dream big, do our best, stick with positivity, ambition and effort. I’ve said it here enough times: never give up, never settle, never back down from your highest potential.

But sometimes the pursuit of wellness and success can turn into perfectionism. And perfectionism is poison. It comes with relentless judgment, punishment via negative self-talk and other toxic treats we force feed ourselves without realizing it…all in the name of doing our best to make the best choice or overcome adversity with greatest success and at maximum speed…proving ourselves right, capable and worthy.

The habit of setting impossible expectations is a bad habit to have. Yes, it’s great to be proactive and determined, but no human or situation is ever perfect. Perspective and balance are essential, and perfectionism kills both. Behind the scenes of a perfectionist attitude, every inevitable challenge and imperfection becomes a failure of grand proportions. The harder we try, the more proof we gather that nothing is ever perfect, and the more trust we lose in ourselves, in our options, in others.

Of course we all want the best answer, solution, path, attitude, feelings and results on a consistent basis, particularly so as to prove we’re indeed climbing out of a rut and creating a wonderful life, career, relationship. But it can’t be a pursuit of perfection.

The moment it’s allowed to become that, anything less than “perfect” feels like a failure. And since it’s impossible to have perfect anythings, in the end, no positive element or opportunity will be good enough, worthy of trust or pursuit.  We will forever have a negative gut feeling about everything, and dark forebodings will follow us everywhere. We will end up over-thinking everything to death…literally, and keep on chewing through every bit of goodness, every imperfect solution or small step forward like Pac-man gone crazy.

It often takes a rude awakening to make us recognize perfectionism in ourselves, and put a stop to it. It’s a process of detox, one we absolutely have to undergo if we’re to achieve balance in our lives, which implies accepting the fact that the pursuit of perfection doesn’t add value to anything. On the contrary, it robs everything of its value and leaves us standing still, scared and focused on failure, unable to choose and therefore, set up for disappointment and loss.

As part of our lifelong quests for achievement and positivity, we need to learn how to be accepting  of the imperfections in all things, in all people, including ourselves. We need to be ok with the not-so-good experiences, days, and periods in our lives, and allow them to co-exist with the good without shattering everything we build, or devalue everything we hold dear.

We need to learn compassion and kindness towards ourselves and others, and not allow unrealistic, unattainable expectations wear us out, rob us of our choices, our optimism, and our confidence. We deserve to be happy, achieve great things, set great goals, dream great dreams and pursue them.

And so we need to remind ourselves all this greatness is, and can only be, beautifully imperfect.

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