Growing up, we’re made to believe that perfectionism is something positive. We’re unconsciously taught that being first, never making a mistake, appearing flawless and constantly winning in every facet of life is what’ll get us the best job, the highest salary, a successful friend group, thousands of likes and followers on Instagram, the envy of our peers and the most perfect life ever.
Sure, our teachers, parents and coaches probably told us “winning isn’t everything” to make us feel better after some devastating defeat we experienced in adolescence, but since then, literally everything in society seems to contradict their words, assuring us that there’s no way that statement can actually be true. Whether it’s in sports, politics or the work place; whoever the perfect team, candidate or employee is will be rewarded while the rest are left to sulk in their self-identified imperfections. It’s no surprise that seeing this happen repeatedly would lead us to believe that winning is everything, and being perfect is the only thing that opens the door to the success we so desperately seek.
So, what exactly is perfectionism? Psychologists define this mindset as “an irrational desire to achieve along with being overly critical of oneself and others” and in our socially connected society, perfectionism has become more than just a mindset, it’s now a way of life. We’ve somehow allowed ourselves to believe that we are defined by what we are, or rather how “perfect” we are when in actuality, that dangerous thought process is holding us back more than it is propelling us forward.
The problem with a mindset fixated on perfectionism is that… it simply doesn’t exist. Instead, perfectionism is the ultimate self-sabotage. It’s based on moving through life attempting to avoid mistakes, even when those mistakes are necessary to help us grow, learn, develop confidence and actually achieve the level of success we desire.
If you struggle with perfectionism, you’re not alone. A 2017 study found that there has been a 33% rise in socially prescribed perfectionism since 1989, with this generation in particular struggling to keep up with a culture that makes us feel depressed if we’re not on track to becoming the next Kylie Jenner. However, with this rise of perfectionism comes a rise in productive ways to combat this mindset as the conversation around mental health has shifted from one that’s taboo to one that’s open, accepting and understanding. Yes, having ambition and determination to succeed is healthy. But the idea of perfectionism, the fear of making mistakes and listening to the inner voice that leads you to believe that you’re nothing unless you’re winning is what can lead to depression, anxiety and other mental health problems that take us down a path of constant self-criticism, fear and worry that we’re not measuring up to whatever society’s idea of perfect is.
Psychologists suggest reversing this unhealthy idea of perfectionism with mental health exercises that’ll help you develop a more realistic view of yourself and your successes. Understand that being perfect isn’t what leads to social acceptance, but rather being your true, authentic and relatable self does. Mistakes are inevitable. They will happen. And the best thing you can do for yourself is to accept them, learn from them and move on to become the person you’re meant to be.
To be clear, letting go of the idea of perfectionism doesn’t mean that you give up on your desire to do well. Instead, this means giving up on the inner voice that tells you that you cannot make a mistake, and if you do, you’ll lose everything. Learning to let go of the idea of perfectionism and replacing it with the mantra of “your best is good enough” might sound intimidating at first, but doing so will free your mind from bondage. Rather than letting social expectations tell you what perfection is, strive for a life defined by learning experiences, deep personal connections, and self-assurance that you are enough.