What to Do If You're Tired of Chasing Perfection
Stop searching for "enough" and seek authenticity instead.
Posted March 25, 2021 | Reviewed by Matt Huston
- Perfectionism often appears in people who have anxiety disorders or related mental health conditions.
- Chasing perfection may impede one's ability to be fully authentic.
- Thinking critically about perfectionism can provide insight into one's values and fears, and may open a path toward greater self-acceptance.
Perfectionism is characterized by a strong desire for control, a tendency to criticize oneself when expectations are not met, and the belief that self-worth is contingent on performance in various areas of life. Can you relate?
Anyone who has experienced the mental prison that is perfectionism knows what a life-sucker it can be, yet it's often minimized or even glorified. We live in a society that tends to reinforce people for "having high standards," so it's sometimes hard to recognize ways we’re being unfair to ourselves. While there’s no clinical diagnosis of “perfectionism,” it often presents within diagnoses like generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), eating disorders, and even substance dependence.
What Is Perfectionism?
Perfectionism is a mindset or attitude where you feel like your worth as a human comes from your performance on some metric that you’ve equated with “success." For some people, that might be grades or awards. For others, it might be having the "perfect" body or a beautifully organized Pinterest-worthy fridge.
This mindset often shows up in individuals who are highly sensitive, people-pleasing, and control-seeking. This mentality drives us toward made-up rules and formulas that we hope will give us control and validation. Unfortunately, that pursuit of control can ultimately turn around and control us, keeping us trapped in the chase for the next hit of validation. Then, as soon as it’s achieved, the mind says, “okay, how will you get more though?” For example, you lose a few pounds and your brain gets excited, then a few minutes later says "how will you keep losing?" Or you get a promotion at work and your brain says "okay, what next?" It’s never enough. We never truly land. So we just keep chasing and chasing, never feeling fully satisfied.
Perfectionism Stifles Authenticity
If you’ve ever spent time with someone who was laser-focused on achieving perfection, you may have experienced them as guarded, judgmental, or unrelatable. They may have made you feel inadequate, competitive, or simply unable to connect.
That’s because flaws and mistakes are universal parts of the human experience. Being alive means there will always be times when you feel messy and imperfect. Instead of rushing to hide or fix those things, we can acknowledge them as natural components of being constantly growing, evolving, dynamic beings. I guarantee you that anything you’re not thrilled about in yourself, someone else has also struggled with. Our flaws allow us to connect to one another.
What if you could accept the parts of yourself that are average or mediocre, instead of shaming yourself for them? What if you could recognize that you’re a multifaceted being with strengths and weaknesses, qualities that some will value and others will reject, personality traits that serve as assets in some scenarios and limitations in others?
If you want to live life as your most authentic self, it's important to stop chasing those hits of validation. They’re not reliable, anyway. Sometimes, you reach a goal and feel amazing, and other times you reach a goal and your mind immediately minimizes it. You never feel satisfied for more than a fleeting moment, since life goes on and presents new challenges each day. You never reach a destination where you can truly rest, where you feel good enough.
How to Stop Chasing Perfection
If you’re ready to ditch perfection in favor of authenticity, you can start by exploring the purpose driving your chase. If you’re chasing a job title, what’s so important to you about that job title? If it’s a weight or body size, what does your brain tells you it means for you to reach that weight or body size? Think critically about your answers, as they will inform you of two important things:
- Your values, the things that matter to you, such as health, security, belongingness, or intelligence
- Your fears, the things you are trying to avoid, prevent, or decrease by striving for those goals, such as seeking a certain beauty standard to be perceived as desirable or seeking a certain job status to avoid feeling incompetent or inferior
Overcoming perfectionism also means acknowledging the negative consequences of constantly striving for those unrealistic standards. What has it cost you to pursue that goal weight? Your sleep? Your social life? Your ability to enjoy delicious meals with loved ones? Is the outcome worth the sacrifice?
When you consider what your efforts to achieve "enough" have taken you away from, you can gain perspective about whether it is worthwhile to continue putting your energy towards those things. You can also decide whether you’ll be happier at age 95 looking back on your life if you spend your time and energy on something different.
Remember that your ability to achieve certain standards or goals does not reflect anything about your worthiness as a human. You matter simply because you exist. Your values are what make you special and they are uniquely determined by you. Nobody else gets to decide what’s important to you or what it means to be the realest version of you.
When you stop tying your self-worth to some arbitrary or externally driven standard, you get to figure out other, more meaningful ways to validate yourself. Your sense of self no longer depends on achieving a particular outcome. Instead, you’re able to step back when you’re struggling, and ask yourself, “Why does this matter to me so much? Does it need to matter? What does it mean about me if I fall short of this standard?” Then, you can recognize that even if you don’t hit that goal, you’ll still be you. No amount of productivity will increase or decrease your value as a human.
It’s okay to rest. You are already enough.