I am a recovering perfectionist. Letting go of a project or launching a product was a distressing, doubt-riddled process that presented nothing but terrible possibilities.
- “What if there’s a mistake I missed?”
- “What if it’s not good enough?”
These unanswerable questions have created endless stress and frustration. The unrealistic demands of perfectionism lead, not to perfection, but to lost hours and missed opportunities.
So for me, getting to the roots of my perfectionism was something that I needed to do – for my health, productivity, and well-being.
Here’s a description of perfectionism that resonates for me:
“At its root, perfectionism isn’t really about a deep love of being meticulous. It’s about fear. Fear of making a mistake. Fear of disappointing others. Fear of failure. Fear of success.” Michael Law
My first step toward freedom was to explore my history and learn to recognize the roots of my particular brand of perfectionism. So I’d like to share a story with you – one that I recall like it was yesterday. It’s one event out of many – and yet it captures the flavor of the early demands that have fueled my perfectionism through the ensuing decades.
As a child, starting with elementary school, I came to know very quickly that anything less than an “A” on my report card was not okay. And since I wanted my parents to love me I needed to get straight A’s. So school tasks generated stomach-churning stress as I tried and tried. Failure was not an option!
In general, I did very well, but in 10th grade I ran into a wall — my French class. I struggled with French from the start. So my mother got me a tutor.
Mrs. A. was a native French woman who was an acquaintance of my mother’s. She lived about 2 ½ miles from us. Faithfully, every Monday night, my aunt would drive me there and then come back and pick me up an hour later.
This story speaks to how deeply my perfectionism is rooted in fear – and how real and debilitating my family’s demands were. To me they felt normal. And though I hated the pressure, I certainly never questioned the demands. But Mrs. A. could see how they were tying me in knots.
Do you have a similar story in your history? One that feeds your perfectionism today? If so, you’re certainly not alone. And fears needn’t hold sway over you. You can make different choices now.
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