We’ve all heard the saying, “practice makes perfect.” But what actually happens to us when we don’t produce something perfect? Striving for excellence is a healthy way of life, but striving for perfection can leave us and our loved ones feeling like failures. Perfectionism is a trap that our society leads us in trying to attain, but forever unable to achieve. The aspiration to be perfect leads to increased stress, anxiety, depression and many unmet expectations.
What is the biggest difference between perfectionism and excellence? Perfectionism leaves a person constantly striving to reach an ideal that cannot be obtained and one that doesn’t actually even exist. Excellence is putting your best effort into everything you do, and that is something that is completely attainable.
Perfectionism causes us to compare ourselves to others who are not in the same age bracket, stage of life, or place in life, and often leaves us feeling inadequate. Those feelings of inadequacy lead to decreased feelings of self-worth and increased negative self talk. The only fair comparison to make in life is to compare ourselves to who we used to be, and to use that as motivation to move closer to where we desire to be.
Living a life of perfectionism leaves us feeling “less than” in most areas of life, and causes us to take on a negative point of view. Perfectionism is not only a self-imposed problem, but living a life of trying to be perfect can harm those around us. Constantly talking about where we feel we don’t measure up, especially in front of our children, can leave them feeling like they are not enough if they aren’t living up to the same standards we are setting for ourselves. This can cause our children to also feel that they never measure up even if we’re telling them we’re happy with their best efforts. If we are constantly complaining that our best isn’t good enough, they learn to feel the same about their best. What we need to do is change that script and say things like, “I know I did the very best I could on this, and I hope others can see that as well.” By no longer saying things like, “I know I really messed that up, I don’t even know why they asked me to do it in the first place,” we can lead a less frustrating life, and be a better example to those who are watching us and listening to what we are saying.
It is always a good thing to strive for excellence in all that we do. If we can train ourselves to be satisfied with our best effort and what that effort produces, then we can lead more fulfilled, satisfied lives, and be a more positive example to those that are watching. So I encourage you, don’t try to be perfect, because perfect doesn’t exist. Do your best in all that you do, and be satisfied with knowing that you gave it your all!
Dawn DiQuattro, MA, LMFT has been practicing for five years and recently joined Hurley Counseling. She specializes in children, adolescents, and families. She offers after school and weekend appointments to best meet the needs of her clients.