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The Elusive Search for Perfection

Is "Good Enough" the New Perfect?

Young man typing at desk covered in screwed up paper (Getty Images).

by Samantha Morris*

Have you ever wondered what your life would be like if and when you acquire everything? Perhaps you’ve been planning to buy, or you already own that luxury home, Chanel Wardrobe, or state of the art car in the hope that you that these will improve your life and make you happy? You may already have, or are working towards that fantastic career or next investment which requires you to jet set across the world for both work and pleasure, and yet although your lifestyle may elicit jealousy, gossip and assumptions that your life is seemingly perfect from the outside, somehow you feel that this couldn’t be more wrong and life can feel very lonely and pressurised as you continue to uphold and raise the bar in order to meet and even stun individual and social expectations.

The search for perfection in different areas of our lives can feel like an addictive high, which hooks us into believing that if only we owned, or achieved just one more thing we’d will feel happier, wealthier and healthier. Yet, ironically although you may achieve that goal, perhaps you still feel unfulfilled, empty and judged in response to your nagging internal voice which replays the following; am I good enough? What happens if I fail to meet or exceed expectations? What happens if I don’t fit in or I don’t present myself as less than perfect? Will I be judged and cast out into the sea of rejection? And to top it off, it doesn’t help that the media and other’s expectations reinforce the pressure to be perfect.

However, rarely do people see ‘good enough’ as being successful. Instead, the term seems to stir up images of being satisfactory, ordinary, boring, unsuccessful and so forth. For example, recently I watched two affluent and successful women being harnessed by the phenomenal hypnotising power of taking the ‘perfect’ Selfie. From the outside, they portrayed the very essence of what some people may regard as being highly successful; they were wealthy, beautiful, intelligent, well educated and extremely well connected. Yet sadly, as they continued to take more than 20 photos with the hope of receiving 150+ likes on social media, I became aware that despite seeming to have it all, they really didn’t! As with other people, they too were on the search for the elusive perfect vision and confirmation of themselves.

I’ve also known high flying professionals as well as actors, musicians and people in the public eye to live in a crippling prison of self-doubt and anxiety as they profusely sweat for hundreds of hours over a presentation, a phrase within a piece of music, a script, or they feel that as soon as they open up the morning papers, or step outside of their front door they will be scrutinised within an inch of their life by the media, society and peers. Their personal and professional lives become blurred and privacy is sacrificed, through the pressures of having to uphold the very expectations that cast them into the limelight to begin with.

Four friends shooting selfies on their mobile phones at the same time, effectively hiding and isolating themselves. Alternatively, they could be using online dating apps to see who’s next to them. (Getty Images)

THE COSTS OF PERFECTIONISM

Although we know that aiming high can help us to fulfill our potential, take us to the next level and leave us feeling exhilarated, we have to ask ourselves, at what point do we begin to experience the detrimental side effects of perfectionism?

We learn in different ways and from a very young age that we need to either ‘fit in’ to society or to over-achieve in order to set the new bar. After years and years of both soaking in this message and practicing it’s philosophy, people can sometimes begin to feel lost, stressed, burnt-out, lacking in confidence and can feel unseen and unheard, yet the need to portray the ‘perfect’ image and life lingers over people’s heads as a dark cloud as they wake up every morning and step outside their front doors.  

Perfectionism can also be a sign of procrastination, or in other words, finding an excuse to bide our time as a response to fear. Sometimes we may both be excited and yet be hugely fearful of either failing, or worse still actually achieving greatness and our fear of what this will bring and whether we’ll be able to accept or manage the rewards it brings. 

As human beings we are naturally wired to survive so any hint of self-doubt and so, the search for ‘perfectionism’ in all aspects of our lives protects us from the unknown whether this be positive or negative.

Man cutting grass with scissors. (Getty Images)

8 ESSENTIAL TIPS TO OVERCOME PERFECTIONISM

1. The Need to Control: Perfectionism communicates a need to control the unknown and can, at the extreme, be a response to fear. The results of being a perfectionist can be detrimental in terms of both affecting your health and holding you back. Ask yourself what am I fearful of? And how is my perfectionism holding me back from attracting all that I want and need?

2. Acknowledge Your Boundaries: Ask yourself, at what point does my healthy desire to want to create, experience and produce satisfying and successful results leak into wanting to achieve a perfect result?  

3. Return to Your Original Goal. Sometimes we strive to achieve things in life, and yet when we get there it may not be as fulfilling as we would have liked. We may even get so caught up in actually achieving something that we lose ourselves and our original goals along the way. The key is to initially focus on how you want to feel and what you can realistically achieve in order to experience and create a great result. Then be honest with yourself and explore who in your life and what is honestly going to help you to achieve this.

4. Success and Happiness Comes From Being Yourself. More often than not, our greatest memories, happiness and achievements emerge when we are naturally at one with ourselves and relaxed. So ask yourself what would help me to relax, to have fun and to be spontaneous? Embrace the smaller and the larger things in life and give yourself permission to sometimes ‘let go’ rather than always feeling the need to control your life. Sometimes feeling ‘good enough’ and satisfied leads to incredible experiences.

5. Positively Challenge Your Thoughts: Acknowledge your thoughts and challenge them. Ask yourself: Where does my need to be perfect come from? Who am I trying to please here? Are these my own or others expectations?  At what point do I say enough is enough? What is the cost to my health, happiness and wellbeing? Can the same result be achieved without the excess extreme amounts of stress and expectations?

6. Be True to Yourself. Ask yourself: When I feel the need to be ‘perfect’ am I really being true to my own happiness? Or am I trading these values in to be someone I am not or in order to please other people?

7. Progress is Better Than Perfection: Sometimes we want things to be ‘just so’, but at what cost? By facing your fears and demons and doing it anyway, you will be empowering yourself to make progress. Sure you may not achieve or acquire how you want things to be at first, but at least you’ll be getting closer to your goals.  Perhaps even set yourself a realistic deadline for finishing a piece of work, otherwise you may find yourself never finishing that life-long project.

8. Take Action and View Failure as a Positive Experience. Ok… I know you’re probably thinking this is crazy but just hear me out. We are conditioned to think failure is negative, but what if we were to consider that failure offers us a golden opportunity to learn what is and isn’t working and to turn things around? The greatest success stories come from people who have taken faced their fears head on and responded to fear and failure as signs and opportunities which will lead them closer to their goals.

The reality is that perfectionism is elusive and deceptive! It leads us down a never-ending path towards an elusive pot of gold, which promises to reward us with a ‘one way ticket’ to a perfect life. However, you deserve more than the con that perfectionism promises. You deserve the real deal!

*Samantha Morris is a Certified and Qualified Life Coach and an Integrative Art Psychotherapist.

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