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Years ago when I was job searching, I remember looking up possible interview questions so I could be prepared.
When it came to weaknesses, I remember reading over and over about how we should say “perfectionism” because it’s really a strength disguised as a weakness.
Over time, I’ve come to believe the exact opposite.
Perfectionism is a weakness disguised as a strength.
Wanting to do well, to excel, to do good work, to do our best, to better ourselves, to be the highest versions of ourselves, to dive heart-and-soul into something we care about is beautiful. It’s wonderful.
But perfectionism isn’t that.
Perfectionism for the sake of perfectionism isn’t that.
It’s hollow, and it’s superficial.
Perfectionism isn’t about doing well because we care; it’s about wanting to do well so that we seem perfect. It’s about external validation, attention, praise, or because we want the world to see us in a certain way (as perfect), a way where we don’t have flaws or imperfections. We hope we can hide our imperfections behind the acts of perfectionism.
But it doesn’t work, and it only leaves us feeling depleted, discontent, and disconnected.
Because it isn’t possible, and we’re not doing it from a place of love or passion. We do it out of fear.
We will never get the praise that we’re seeking. We’ll never feel fulfilled by the attention even if we get it. We’ll never reach that elusive feeling of wholeness we think comes from “being perfect.”
Perfectionism is also performative. It’s not even so much about being perfect but about wanting to seem like we are, wanting to seem like we “have it together,” wanting some “perfect” image of us to be reflected through the eyes of those who look at us—because we mistakenly believe that’s what will fulfill us, or at least, keep others from “seeing through us.”
It’s not about being perfect—because we are aware that we’re not perfect. It’s about wanting to appear perfect to the world “out there.”
There can be all sorts of reasons for this, but I think it stems from deep pain or fear. Something happened at some time, and we somehow developed the belief that by “seeming perfect,” we could protect ourselves from pain, that we could shield ourselves, that we wouldn’t have to experience whatever that painful feeling was again.
We may have beliefs like we’re “not good enough,” or “unworthy,” or feelings like “there’s something wrong with us.” And we unconsciously strive for perfectionism hoping that it will hide these “truths.”
If we’re perfect, maybe people won’t see through us, see our flaws, the parts that we think are “bad.”
But there is nothing inherently wrong with us, and perfectionism won’t make us happy.
It’s superficial, it causes us stress, and it keeps us from being truly connected to ourselves.
It’s why we’re afraid of failure or making mistakes, why we cling to our comfort zones and what we know. It’s why we’re uncomfortable with trying things that we’re not naturally good at.
Perfectionism is debilitating. It can keep us from even starting something. It can keep us from trying new things or being honest or authentic. It can leave us following or clinging to paths that aren’t meant for us. We could even get caught up working tirelessly for something that doesn’t even really mean anything to us.
Perfectionism disconnects us from ourselves. We don’t move from our hearts, but rather, our actions stem from fear, from a disingenuous desire to appear a certain way.
Striving to do our best, to excel, to do good work, to better ourselves is beautiful. But striving for perfection for the sake of perfection isn’t.
It’s also easy to write this, to say it, but it’s something else to begin to feel and embody the truth in the words—because the parts of us that long for this idea of “perfect” are deeply embedded, practiced, and they’re rooted in pain or fear. There’s a deep, unconscious yearning for the validation we hope we’ll receive.
We need to begin to understand that we will never receive that external validation, at least in the way that those parts of us want to.
We’re meant to find it within ourselves.
There are certain things we can force ourselves to do—like try something new, or unfamiliar, or something we know we won’t be great at, to begin to be okay with not being perfect. And we can force ourselves to sit through and watch the discomfort that arises as we’re triggered, when we’re feeling the sting of making mistakes (of not being perfect).
And, over time, the sting will lessen as we realize mistakes and flaws happen, that it’s okay if they happen, that it doesn’t even have to be a big deal if they happen.
While we can’t force ourselves to just let go of perfectionism, we can hold the desire to do so. We can work toward living authentically and allowing the understanding that mistakes happen, that we’re not perfect, and that that’s okay.
We can hold the willingness and the intention, and the inner will to break the habits and patterns that are not serving us. We can watch, observe, and learn—and then intentionally act upon what we discover.
And we can seek to bring compassion, warmth, and gentle self-understanding to ourselves through all of it.
Perfectionism isn’t a strength—it’s a weakness.
And we can begin to untangle ourselves from its grasps.
It starts with awareness and willingness.