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Breaking up With Toxic Perfectionism

In the sixth season of The Office, Jim Halpert assumes the role of co-manager at Dunder Mifflin Paper Company. Despite Jim’s new position, Ryan Howard, “the temp,” refuses to follow through with any of Jim’s requests. Instead of working on data entry, Ryan resorts to playing Tetris on his computer. When Jim questions him about the status of his work, Ryan responds: “I’m such a perfectionist that I’d kinda rather not do it all than do a crappy version.”

Although Ryan’s response was a bad excuse to justify his laziness, I could relate to his statement. I have cultivated the habit of putting things off to avoid less than perfect results. In my childhood, I either quit or avoided dance lessons and sports because I did not think I was ever going to become ‘good enough.’ I did not want to experience shame as a result of my inadequacies, so I stopped myself from pursuing anything I did not excel in from the start. This tendency prevented me from trying things I would have liked to accomplish.​ Anna Schultz-Girl On Computer StressMy struggle with perfectionism has equally affected my relationships. I perceive criticism as a confirmation of my imperfection, so I cling to a defensive attitude for self-protection. My knee jerk reaction to defend myself as a means to reject a perceived attack prevents me from healthily resolving conflict. Because I don’t want anyone to uncover my flaws, I am easily crushed by negative criticism and feedback.

At the heart of my perfectionism lies fear. I think that if everything in my life is perfect, then I can control my fear of judgment, failure, and not measuring up. Counterintuitively, my obsession with looking and acting perfectly keeps me paralyzed by fear.

Although some people define perfectionism as a catalyst for success, perfectionism is not the key to achieving your goals. There is a difference between maintaining high standards and having unrealistic standards. I encourage you to embrace these three tips to help you break up with your perfectionism.

Admit Your Mistakes 

Failures and mistakes are crucial components of growth. Many people cope with their shortcomings by justifying them, which results in repeated mistakes. Instead of trying to cover up your mistakes, you can take responsibility and learn from them. Acknowledging our pain and failures allows us to gain new perspectives and insight that will strengthen our relationships and careers.

Step Out of Your Comfort Zone

As a perfectionist, playing it safe may prevent you from facing the dread of uncertainty and rejection. When you make the choice to step outside your comfort zone, you will let go of your limiting beliefs. By pushing past your comfort zone, you will inevitably encounter setbacks, but you will also come across new opportunities and experiences.

Focus on Your Progress

Instead of focusing on perfection, shift your focus to making progress. Hoping for perfect results is a trap because you will never be perfect. If you are waiting for perfection, you will stay stuck since you are not allowing room for perceived failure. On the other hand, progression keeps you pushing forward despite the obstacles.

The desire to be perfect can compel us to shun challenges and harshly criticize ourselves when we fail to meet our expectations. Accepting imperfection will empower you to break free from these internal pressures. Instead of holding yourself to impossible standards, allow space for mistakes, flaws, and failures.