Perfectionism Is Painful, but Losing Control Is Harder

Being perfect is unrealistic, unattainable and unsatisfying. And yet, we still try. 

Perfectionism is usually seen as something to flaunt in an interview or subtly boast about when your friends want to see what grade you got. They ask you how you’re doing so well, and you smile at the ground while saying something like, “I guess I’m just a perfectionist.” At that moment, it feels good to be acknowledged. You can ignore all of the hours you’ve spent trying to keep everything together and finally feel proud of the things you’ve accomplished. 

That feeling doesn’t last, though. The dark side of being “perfect” usually comes when you’re alone and people aren’t there to see things slipping through the cracks. Maybe one day you forget to eat and another day you have a quiz that slips your mind. You accidentally double-book yourself and simply can’t be in two places at once. Making a mistake like that is enough to leave you with tears in your eyes, and you can only hope that whoever you choose to reschedule with will forgive you. 

One by one, the obligations you’ve been juggling begin to fall until eventually there comes a point when you realize that you can’t do it all. Unfortunately, you’re probably in too deep to stop. Maybe people are counting on you or maybe you’ve been doing so many things for so long that it feels like a letdown to simply be average again. Even considering putting in less effort than you used to is like betraying the goals you swore you’d achieve. 

Woman staring at a window sadly Photo by Tiago Banderia from Unsplash

I’ve been there. Admittedly, I’m still there, waiting to hit rock bottom so I can finally start finding my way up again. Sometimes it seems like I’m so busy trying to get everything done that my brain is filled with nothing but a constant buzzing. All I can hear is the sound of too many thoughts racing back and forth across my mind as I worry myself to death. When I try to fall asleep at night, I stare at the wall thinking of all of the things I didn’t accomplish that day and make mental to-do lists while promising myself that tomorrow will be the point at which I get my life together. 

For anyone who wants to know why I don’t take a break or just stop worrying so much, I’d like to explain. To lessen my workload would feel too empty, too quiet, too relaxed. There’s a specific kind of peace that you find while overworking yourself, and it’s one that I’ve grown very comfortable with over the years. Sometimes it seems scarier to take a step back and breathe then it is to distract yourself with things to do. 

It can also be easy to get caught up in a constant competition where you try to one-up yourself each semester. Why not add on another club, another job, another unpaid “opportunity” that will make your resume shine? If you’re already drowning in work, would more really sink you? 

Girl underwater blows out air bubbles Photo by Nate Neelson from Unsplash

Of course, this likely sounds incredibly far-fetched. But I think that’s exactly why I wanted to write about it. We often don’t seem to understand the people around us and the pressure they’re under, especially if that pressure is self-inflicted. 

I think that maybe, just maybe, there’s another person out there like me who’s dealing with these same “crazy” thoughts. I hope they know they’re not alone, and that although it’s okay to try and be as perfect as you can, maybe it’s okay to take a break and just breathe for a while, too.