How I Made Peace with Perfectionism

peace perfectionism

“Beauty is the purest feeling of the soul. Beauty arises when soul is satisfied.”
Amit Ray, Nonviolence: The Transforming Power

I once heard a famous, self-help guru/podcaster say, “Purpose is the thing that launches you out of bed each morning, ready to attack the day.”  I was flummoxed. Launch?  There are people that launch out of bed in the mornings ready to attack the day?  Usually by the time my alarm goes off I’m thinking—What am I supposed to get done today? What emails did I forget to respond to?  Did I mail that birthday card?  Who fed the cat?

I have always admired those 5am early risers that get up, run 6 miles, read the paper, meditate every morning and brag about it with such joy it makes me want to pull the covers over my head (and that’s on my more gentle days).  I like to think that I have a more Eeyore approach to the mornings, wondering where my tail went and searching sleepy-eyed for coffee.  There’s nothing I love more than Christmas, yet there are home videos of Christmas morning when my little brother would come bouncing into my room Tigger-like shouting “Kate! Kate! Santa has come!” and I have this look on my face like- just one more hour of sleep. And this is the morning most children happily launch out of bed eager to attack the day.  Or at least attack the presents.

Realizing our own limitations can make us feel sad sometimes.  I will probably never hear the phrases “morning person” or “ray of sunshine” to describe me prior to that first cup of coffee.  My favorite thing is to stay in pajamas until lunch reading.  Another favorite pastime I enjoy is overthinking myself into a tizzy.  I remember when a simple decision like stopping for coffee would stop me in my tracks.  I would wonder – Where should I go?  Should I get a latte? Can I really afford that? I should get tea.  What kind of tea?  Chai? Chai tea latte?  And that’s just about getting coffee.

And then one day I had a huge realization: this is perfectionism.  The comparisons, the shoulds, the overthinking; this as a form of perfectionism because it is all based in fear – fear in couture clothes.  The fear that if I’m not launching out of bed in the mornings with this grand sense of purpose that I must be unworthy or somehow lacking.  That I’m not making the most of my one and only life.  If I can’t sit on the mountain top discovering my inner child and find peace then I’m missing something everyone else is privy to.

If I can be completely honest with you, the truth is that I am coming to love my imperfections and being myself- warts and all.  I kind of love the side of me that has a stack of unfinished books, that goes to art galleries because I’m supposed to but what I’m really looking forward to is ordering a pastry at the café, the side that says “yeah, I like to ride my bike to work” and I don’t even have a bike.

It has taken me 31 years to come to love myself fully and completely even on the days when I wish I were different. I think – you know what, I am doing the best I can.  I will never be perfect; I will never win the morning person competition or like cold weather or make beautiful jewelry or bike around Austin during South by Southwest.  It’s not that I can’t do these things, it’s just that I don’t want to.  Why would I spend time doing the things someone else would enjoy when I can find the things that bring me true happiness?  It is better to be an imperfect me than a perfect example of somebody else.

If you sometimes struggle with who you think you should be and what you think your life should look like, I want you to know that you are not alone.  The Dutch writer, Henry Mulisch, wrote about this idea: “Every person has, I believe, the feeling that he doesn’t belong in the lives of other people.  That he is in some way different, a guest, and he takes all possible measures to make sure others won’t notice.  This is the feeling all people have, and that is precisely why we all belong together.”  And that is precisely why we all belong together – I love that last line.

You’re ok.  You’re not perfect, maybe there are things you’d like to change and I know you can accomplish anything you put your mind to, but I have found that the real adventure is to love yourself fully, unconditionally, and without regard for the destination.  Loving ourselves and loving others is the bravest and most worthwhile path we could ever walk.  It means accepting our limitations, accepting the limitations of others, and cutting ourselves some slack…  And giving ourselves permission to sleep in from time to time.

What will you let go of in order to fully accept yourself?

10 thoughts on “How I Made Peace with Perfectionism”

  1. What a great article. I am a very harsh critic of myself and constantly judging myself on how I could have done something better. I agree that the key to living a happy life comes firstly from within. My goal is to always try and be a better person but also accepting who I am and that I am not perfect and being comfortable with who I am and my imperfections. Thanks for comforting people that we are all on that same journey of self worth and enjoy your sleep in. :)

  2. I realised perfectionism is holding me back but it hasn’t been as easy as just realising to make me change. Learning to do things to an ok standard is a daily struggle and constant battle. I still do nothing on many days and on others get bogged down with details and I’ll still just drive home without having lunch because the decision to go out and buy a sandwich and where to go and can I afford it and all that gets overwhelming.
    Was it really as easy for you as one day realising that you’re a perfectionist?

    1. Hi Candy,

      For me it is a daily realization that nothing has to be perfect, it just needs to get done. I remind myself that I don’t need to win any awards, I just need to take one tiny step towards accomplishing something even if I finish it another day. It has been about super gentle and loving with myself every single day and working on creating a positive sense of self-worth and putting a stop to the criticism. Some days are easier than others but I’ve noticed that I have become much more productive, loving, and joyful each passing month. Things that used to totally derail me don’t bother me as much. It’s certainly a journey.

  3. sri purna widari

    Kate, you speak for me.
    I constantly compared myself to the morning persons with those habits you mentioned and I felt like a failure when I did not keep up with them.
    I woke up in the afternoon, I have been often a night owl who slept at 3 am and woke up at 12. Sometimes I exercise and sometimes I did not, sometimes I ate unhealthy and sometimes I did not and I am glad that I am not alone.
    Thank you for sharing, it is highly appreciated.

    1. Yes! If I haven’t been to the gym for a few weeks I just tell myself “Katey, it’s ok. You’re ok, nothing about you has to be perfect. You are doing your best. Just go for a 10 minute walk and see if you might want to keep going after that”. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one beating myself up for not being perfect!

  4. Hi Kate,

    I have never been a morning person. Been thinking what’s wrong with me that I do not jump out of my bed to work on my biz. Nothing is just am not a morning person.

    1. Mary! I completely relate, it is like there is this shame if you don’t jump out of bed ready to attack the day. We night owls need to rejoice and set each other free! We live in a world of “morning people”! Sometimes I repeat to myself- nothing about this day has to be perfect.

  5. I really like this,and I never realized it’s really perfection that I am after and so yes I agree even though it may be easier said than done I can only be me and that’s the “perfect” me!

    Thanks Kate!

  6. Amen! “Always be a first-rate version of yourself instead of a second-rate version of somebody else.” is a quote from Judy Garland that I love very much, and feel echoes the sentiment of this blog post. Living this is liberating, and so much healthier compared to the alternative. I get to make my own rules and rule number one is that I (we all) accept that I am (we are) completely perfect and whole…just as I am now. ..and now. …and now, no matter what I am or am not doing.

  7. Kate,

    I have always struggled with perfectionism, I started playing sports at a very early age and perfectionism is something that I was coached to thrive on “You must work every day to be better than you were yesterday.” As an adult I may no longer play sports at high levels of competition but the same thought process carried over into work. After years of letting this battle dictate who I was, I have just recently started to wage the war against it. I certainly don’t have the same struggles of being a morning person, but I still am in the stages of making the moment to moment choice that my best effort has to be good enough at times. I have a card that sits on my desk that has the word EXPECTATIONS written on it, under that word is the following question “Are you working with your own expectations or are you working with the expectations that you feel others have for you?” There are many days I find that question very humbling.
    Thank you for your post, there is comfort in knowing this battle has been fought by others before.

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