Perfection and other myths

Hey all! I know posts have been a little sparser lately; in addition to life being generally busy, it’s been a tougher season personally than I’d anticipated. Unsurprisingly, challenges cropping up means not everything works quite the way I want — including me. Being okay with mistakes and imperfection is the lesson I’ve been trying to get through my head the last 6 months.

In fact, I’ve actually been waiting to talk about it here because I wanted to feel like I had made significant progress first. Mistakes, or simply not being able to do and be everything you want, are realities we all have to come to terms with eventually. It’s not a strong suit of mine. If I make a mistake out of ignorance or some other factor I can’t control, that might be fine. But if I make a mistake out of an oversight, or anything for which I might have “known better,” it’s really hard to get over.

And frankly, it’s super unhealthy. It means I tend to be too rigid, am easily and often stressed, and have a hard time moving on and rolling with the punches. Unfortunately, it’s an issue that becomes even more painful and pointed for emerging adults. Many of us are feeling ridiculous pressure to perform perfectly in so many areas: work, school, family, social life, romantic relationships, even general adulting. The weight we often put on ourselves to be essentially perfect in all these areas can be crippling. It usually means we’re overworked and stressed, but can also lead to initiating or exacerbating mental health issues, physical illness, and strained relationships.

I’d love to offer some epiphany or magic formula for learning to not hold ourselves to such debilitating, difficult standards, but the truth is it’s a long often personal process. You’ve got to figure out what drives that feeling, and then how to combat it.

That being said, I have found a couple of things that help:

Talk yourself through it. I’m not a huge fan of the “what’s the worst that could happen?” trick because I can always imagine incredibly horrible things resulting from tiny mistakes. Instead, try asking “what’s likely to happen?” It brings a reality-check back into the thought process, and makes it easier to not feel like any tiny shortcoming will bring the whole castle down.

Reframe it. Instead of looking at the less-than-ideal thing and panicking that it went wrong, or focusing on what you should have done better, honestly assess whether there is a need to fix/address the thing or if it’s better to move on. If you can do something about it, do that. If not, tell yourself it’s just a small thing, that you’re allowed to make mistakes, that you don’t have to be perfect, and (try to) let it go.

Search your feelings. When you start to feel any of the negative emotions that can come with not meeting personal expectations of perfection (frustration, disappointment, stress, anxiety, etc.), acknowledge what you’re feeling. Name it, and analyze what’s making you feel that way. Think about how your body is expressing that emotion, through tension, cortisol, or some other thing, and instead of being in all those feelings, try to look at them from the outside. This perspective shift can work wonders.

Don’t project. I can’t stress this one enough. You feeling a need to be perfect is a you thing. Projecting that expectation onto other people and expecting them to live up to every mental standard you set is not only unrealistic, but unhealthy. It’s not good for you because you’ll be constantly disappointed, it’s not fair to the other person, and it can easily damage relationships.

No one cares. Being quite this blunt isn’t always helpful, but it is important to keep in mind that it’s very likely you care about this far more than anyone else. Things go wrong. People aren’t perfect. For the most part, other people won’t expect you to be. Remembering that can help make it easier to not expect yourself to be perfect either.

Find ways to relax. This looks different for everybody, so you’ve got to find what work best for you. Some of my favorite options that I can do often are spending time outside, cooking or baking, doing yoga, and meditation. Sometimes you might need a stronger emotional release like hard exercise or crying, and that’s okay too.

Use the buddy system. Have one or two people who you can talk to when you’re feeling this way, and who will remind you that it’s okay to not be perfect and to make mistakes. You’re still learning and growing and it’s a journey that none of us will ever fully reach the end of. And that’s completely okay.

Progress isn’t linear. You will have days or stretches where you’ll be doing a lot better, and days or months where you feel like you’ve backslid. That’s normal. Give yourself the grace to make progress at your own pace.

I hope that helps! If you have any ideas to add, feel free to comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up. Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!

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