Breaking up with Perfection

Dear Perfection:

It’s just not working out between us. Let me paint the picture for you.

At a young age, I internalized that I needed to be perfect. I witnessed the impact that other people’s poor choices could have on a person and decided that I would never disappoint anyone (impossible challenge). I was also addicted to external approval and affirmations that followed my efforts to be perfect. I decided I would be the person that did everything right (even more impossible). I was motivated by perfection to overachieve in school, to be the first in my family to go to college, and to be seen as likable by everyone. I thought that perfection would save me the pain of ever feeling like a disappointment.

This was not the case. In fact, I experienced the opposite. Every mistake or failure would bring up this deep feeling of inadequacy and victimhood. Rather than being proactive and reflective about what happened, I would be brutally judgmental of myself. Here's an example.

After an extremely hard day in the classroom, I felt that feeling of not being enough swelling behind my eyes and in my heart. After all of those long hours of lesson planning and working to build genuine relationships with students and parents, I was still experiencing failure. I felt like I let myself down and everyone else around me (talk about being self-centered). I left work feeling like I needed to go back to the drawing board and figure out what I was doing wrong. My mom responded to my reaction with a very passionate “Girl, you’re doing too much”. She was right. All my life, I’ve been doing way too much trying to be the perfect daughter, friend, student, and now teacher.

It is just not possible. And it is even more damaging. I could never be enough for myself because my expectations for myself were not realistic. It is inevitable that I will mess up. Rather than feeling like a mess up, I will empower myself to reflect and respond to what happened. Sometimes I will need to check myself and take responsibility for a mistake that I made. Sometimes I will have to advocate for myself and set clear boundaries with someone else. Sometimes the response will be to just let it go. Regardless of the response, my relationship to myself will be gentle and loving.

Perfection, you no longer have the power to create the standard for how I should exist in this world. I have the power now.

So that you know it’s really over between us. Here are some actions I will be taking when you try to show up at my door unexpectedly:

New response:

  • B r e a t h e

  • First prompt: What happened? Be specific.

  • Second prompt: What was your reaction? Be specific.

  • Third prompt: What can you learn from this moment?

  • Fourth prompt: What can you do moving forward to be more proactive about the situation? Focus on actions.

P.S. Perfection, it’s officially over between us.


Your Ex

Written in 2018. Still relevant in 2020.

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