The more we seek and chase perfection the more we tend to lose ourselves.Anonymous
One of the hardest lessons to learn in life is to let go of the quest for perfection.
Author and happiness researcher Tal Ben-Shahar says the pursuit of ‘perfect’ may actually be the number one obstacle to finding happiness.
You don’t have to be a hardcore perfectionist to experience the negative side effects of your personal demand for excellence. Perfectionism holds you back. It holds life back. Spotting the first signs of your need to be perfect is the first step to understanding who you are and thinking about who you want to be. If you allow yourself to minimize this way of thinking in perfect terms, you’re free to be your authentic self.
Let’s take a look at 3 situations where perfectionism could actually be holding your back from leading a happy life on your terms. Let me show you that you would actually benefit from being a little bit more ‘imperfect’.
You’re a people pleaser, making other people’s expectations your own because you put their happiness above your own. Tal Ben-Shahar outlines in his research how perfectionists tend to use words like ‘should’, ‘ought to’ and ‘must’. Think about what kind of emotions arise when those words are used in conversation with you:
“You should lose a couple more pounds so you can treat yourself to a beautiful dress.”
“I was married when I was your age. You ought to think about what that means for you.”
“With 32 I was Director of Operations. You must really think about working a little harder if you want to get there.”
Don’t these statements evoke feelings of fear, missing out, not being okay or even good enough to deserve any of that?
Taking Your Power Back
In the end, it’s your choice whether you make other people’s expectations your own or not. You’ll never be able to please everyone and you gotta take care of yourself first before you try to do that for the rest of the world. Sometimes, we also mistake someone else’s happiness for our own. Take a step back. You deserve to be loved even though you choose not to live up to someone’s expectations. We’re all different and we all deserve to make our own choices. You just need to stop and take the time to actually figure out what it is that makes you happy without society’s or other people’s expectations burdening you into being someone you’re not.
One of the most common traits of perfectionists is to compare yourself with others, such as considering someone else to have a better job, a bigger house, more money, etc. than you. You choose to see the world in blacks and whites – all or nothing thinking. Either you’ve got it all, as others do, or you’ve got nothing, which steers you away from looking at all the positive things happening in your life.
Taking Your Power Back
Don’t believe that emulating others will make you happy; try to be the best version of yourself. That also means reflecting about those areas in your life that could be improved upon as well as recognizing and appreciating what you’re good at, celebrating the small steps and achievements along the journey.
On a superficial level, the lives of others (especially on social media these days) may look perfect, but they hardly are! And a life that someone else leads might not even make you happy at all. The best way to happiness is starting to look inside yourself to understand who you are and what brings you joy. That also means facing your own shortcomings and imperfections. Be compassionate with yourself when doing so. We all have them. It’s about learning to embrace both the light and dark parts of yourself that not only tell you what true happiness is to you, but also make you this unique, special and beautiful human being.
We need to be okay with admitting that we’re imperfect and see challenge and opportunity in that learning. When we don’t allow ourselves to experience painful emotions, we also lose our capacity for happiness.
You’re highly critical not only of others but yourself. Failure is not an option. Perfectionists are driven by fear of failure. Their primary concern is to avoid falling down, deviating or stumbling. You know that it doesn’t make sense to worry about things out of your control or cry about a mistake that’s happened, but you do it anyway. You like to to be the one in charge. Striving to be perfect is actually hurting yourself, but you believe that’s the price to pay to be successful. That also means you’re never quite ready, you’re never quite there yet, there’s always room for improvement.
Taking Your Power Back
That’s going to hold you back from doing so many wonderful things, because in all honesty, we’re never completely ready for anything happening in life. We’re not ready for the first love, getting married, the first child, being hurt, learning something new. Even though none of those experiences can be controlled or planned, they are the most wonderful things we’ll ever experience. Of course, those experiences are not always positive. We make mistakes and we fail. Yet those times are there for a reason! You fall down and get up again, you become stronger and more resilient. If you learn from your failure, there is nothing lost at all. If we however lead a life avoiding risks, or avoid rising to life’s challenges, you’re sending a message to yourself that says you’re not capable. But the reality is probably the complete opposite. By embracing challenges, you give your self-esteem a major boost and set yourself up for success in the long run. Let your penance for your mistakes take the form of positive action in the future, not endless sorrow and self-loathing. As you evolve in your life, you transform. You are not the person who made the mistakes. You are the person who will do something differently moving forward, because your learned from your failure and mistakes. You can only transform and grow if you’re willing to start before you’re ready, if you’re willing to fail.
Perfection is an unattainable summit. No matter how high you manage to ascend, you will never reach it. This goes for every aspect of your life, and for your life as a whole. If you refuse to be satisfied with less, you will forever be unsatisfied. That also means understanding that change does not happen overnight. Real and lasting change takes time and consist of many small, yet consistent steps. So be compassionate and kind with yourself in truly accepting the fact that things will never be perfect. Every moment is flawed in one way or another. That doesn’t mean an imperfect life is without value. Learn to value your life despite its drawbacks. Strive for the best life you can have and be the best version of yourself, knowing you will never reach all of your desires.
Be okay with that.
Life is happening with or without you.
Choose to live.
Choose your happiness.