I must confess I am a recovering perfectionist. When I think of all the energy I spent chasing the illusion of perfection that I could have applied and enhanced more meaningful areas of my life I feel just a little bit sick. I’m talking about years of trying to create the perfect vacations, the perfect Thanksgiving dinner, the perfect Christmas holiday experience, it was forever a feeling of being good, but not quite good enough. At some point I had to stop myself and ask what is this all about? Who am I doing this for? What is perfection anyway?
We are all products not only of our childhood upbringing and the people we were surrounded by, but also the story we’ve been telling ourselves about ourselves that started this behavior in the first place. In my coaching practice, I see people who have traveled this perfectionist track often. We share a common profile. We want approval from our parents and peers. We don’t ever want to fail, so we are somewhat type A with a splash of over achievement thrown in. We are very aware of the expectations people have of us and we are our own worst critics. For me, my parents weren’t forcing me to do anything, I just felt this pressure to do well in school, to always strive to be my best, to meet or exceed expectations. Some of that of course was how I was wired, but a lot of that was the internal dialogue I was having about what success looked like. I felt like love was conditional, if I performed better I would be loved more. If I earned more money, I could feel good about myself. I created the illusion of what it meant to be successful by society standards, and if I met those standards, then I was worthy.
While I was busy pursuing perfection, I somehow got on this hamster wheel of life. I was always running but not going anywhere. Perfection you see is a moving target. You can achieve all you want to achieve but there is always another goal to set, another marker to meet, another person’s dream to achieve. While I was busy striving to be everything to everyone, my soul was slowly dying. Nothing I was doing resonated with me. I became very adept at catering to my family and if I chose to honor myself, I felt tremendous guilt. I know we all get to choose how we respond to situations, this was the reality for me. I have this issue with vulnerability so I never wanted to share any of this with anyone because it would then create transparency. I didn’t allow myself the grace to appear as if I was human, to be perceived as weak. It seemed like whenever I was truly struggling in life, people would kick me when I was down. They would say something unkind. Have you ever looked to someone for some emotional support and they kind of look at you with pity, like, you know, I’ve never experienced that (because they are better than you) and sort of feel sorry for you which is adding insult to injury? I avoided that at all costs.
The moment of true awakening to the ridiculous pursuit of perfection came when I was selling my beautiful home in S. Carolina. I had this gorgeous park like yard with flowering trees and thick green grass, it was in a fabulous neighborhood. It took me 14 months to sell, during which time I kept it in complete and “perfect” show condition. Not an item on the counter, not a thing out of place. I was mowing the lawn 3 times a week and raking millions of leaves to make sure it was picture perfect for the potential buyers. I looked around and thought, this is what my life has been like, it’s supposed to look like this “perfect” picture on the outside, but the person living here on the inside is very ordinary. She is mowing the lawns and picking up dog poop like everybody else. I had days where I felt amazing and days when I was crying because the stress of the move was overwhelming. I was completely alone because my husband moved to Texas and I stayed behind to sell our home. Being alone gave me an opportunity to really examine my relationship with myself. Who am I really, and why am I trying so hard to make everyone else happy? Why is everyone else more important than me? That is where the shift really began.
I see why people choose to keep their blinders on rather than do the soul work back to themselves. It’s a difficult journey and it takes so much strength and courage to look at yourself very honestly and see clearly why you are showing up for others but more importantly why you aren’t showing up for yourself. I think a little piece of your soul dies every time you sacrifice your truth to conform and make someone else happy. I encourage you to first release the weight of suffering you are carrying. Put down the burden for a moment, an hour, a day and give yourself some grace. You can pick it back up at any time, but we must learn to put down the weight of things that no longer serve us. Next, it’s important to realize that there is beauty in imperfection and we all come into this world to be our human selves. It is OK to make a mistake, yell at your kids, show up for the kid’s birthday party on the wrong day. Focus on acceptance of who you really are, warts and all. Finally, it’s important to realize that we all see ourselves through a filtered lens. It is colored by society, our beliefs, our family, and so many other things that somehow dirty the lenses and distort the picture. Now is the time to wipe the lens clean and gain clarity around who you are and what you came her to do. You were not born into this life to dwell in the shadows. You came here with a purpose and your presence here on this earth is having an impact. You get to choose whether it is positive or negative. You get to choose to honor your soul and live authentically. You get to choose to accept the beauty of imperfection because that is all that exists. Perfection is an illusion.