Most women I know struggle with some form of perfectionism in their lives. While sometimes harmless, if left unchecked, perfectionism can wreak havoc on all our relationships and negatively affect our lives as a whole. For some, perfectionism shows itself in their relationships with their bodies. They strive to have perfect bodies and obsess over their workouts and their food choices. For others, perfectionism shows up in their relationships with their spouses or kids. They expect their loved ones to act and react in perfect ways, and they are constantly disappointed in their behavior. Some apply their perfectionism to their relationship with themselves, using that critical voice to belittle themselves whenever a mistake is made. Perfectionism can be applied to our homes, our work, and even our favorite activities. At its worst, perfectionism can freeze us and keep us playing small in our lives, not able to work towards our deepest hopes and dreams in fear of falling short.
Perhaps surprisingly, perfectionism can look very different in people’s lives. Some perfectionists manage to pull it off, looking as if their homes, bodies and lives are indeed perfect. Other perfectionists appear to have lives that are in complete disarray, struggling with things such as extreme clutter, excessive weight or lack of motivation to achieve anything. These perfectionists often have given up on trying to achieve because they believe if they can’t do something perfectly, they shouldn’t do it at all.
Have you ever waited until a Monday to start a diet, only to give it up by Tuesday? That’s perfectionism.
Have you ever started an exercise program and become derailed simply because you missed one day? Yep, perfectionism.
Have you ever NOT tried to attain something you really wanted because you thought you might fail or might not do it “well enough”? Once again, perfectionism.
Sadly, at no other time is perfectionism more prevalent than during the holiday season. I can feel the collective stress of all women as I write. We’re running around frantically with a constant swirling to-do list in our heads, and we want it all done perfectly! We want our houses decorated just right. We have high expectations for the way our kids and spouses should act – loving, kind, thoughtful, and of course, merry! We want to look our best at our holiday get-togethers; we want every meal we prepare to come out perfectly; we want the gifts we buy to be perfectly wrapped and perfectly received, and we want all our family traditions to be carried out just the way we’ve planned. No wonder the holidays are stressful! But do they have to be?
I confess that I’m partly writing this for myself. I’ve struggled with perfectionism for most of my life, and now consider myself a “recovering perfectionist.” One thing I know from all my experience is that perfectionism isn’t perfect. The one thing it can’t do is make us happy. It’s much more likely to make us miserable. When we’re focused on perfection, we’re likely anxious, exhausted and constantly rushed, and when we feel that way, we spread that energy to our families. Worse, when we’re in that state, we’re not likely to connect with the people we love. What lies on the other side of perfection is love and connection, presence, laughter and actual joy.
For me, the way out of perfectionism is to consciously set my priorities. Stressed-out, exhausted and grumpy is not how I want to spend my holiday season. What I want to feel is love, connection, presence and enjoyment of the moment I’m in. When I remember this, I can let go of the part of me that wants to strive for perfection. I can ask myself these questions:
Does this need to be done?
Does it need to be done by me alone?
Is there an easier way to do it?
Does it need to be done TODAY?
These reminders help me to drop unnecessary things from my list and focus on today. They help me to shift from wanting to control everything to wanting to connect with the beautiful people in my life.
Just this week, my daughter asked me to turn off the lights in the house and snuggle on the couch with her under the glow of the Christmas tree. I was busy and honestly overwhelmed trying to get the kitchen clean and lunch boxes ready to go for the next day. A big part of me wanted to tell her that we didn’t have time – that I had too much to do. Then I remembered my priorities. The kitchen didn’t have to be done then, and I could enlist help from my family. So, we made a plan and agreed on a time to meet on the couch. If I hadn’t been aware of my perfectionism, I would have missed a special time of connection with my daughter.
How does perfectionism affect your life? Are you ready to shift your relationship with it? Now’s a great time to start. What’s your priority this holiday season? How do you want to feel? Will you focus on perfection or connection? I hope you’re able to make the choice to enjoy the moments as they come. In the grand scheme of your life, keep in mind my new favorite mantra, “Progress, not perfection.”
Love and light,