Here’s the thing- I’m a recovering perfectionist. Sometimes it feels like that’s everyone out there trying to start a blog or a business, but seriously, I am. Maybe you can even relate to my examples in a minute.
The funny thing is, I haven’t been a perfectionist all my life. It really kicked in during my first job out of college. When I appeared to perform perfectly in my job, I received accolades and attention from my bosses, and that filled something inside of me that had been missing my whole life – Approval and acceptance. So, without really knowing it, I let the perfectionism take over. I’m sure there were little bits and pieces of my personality that brought out this tendency to need to be perfect, but it really didn’t become hugely apparent until then.
I mean, I grew up surrounded by a circle of women who were perfect.
Neighborhoods with perfectly manicured yards, white rooms that children weren’t allowed to play in, and women that didn’t leave the house without “having their face made.” On the outside, it was all perfect.
As I became an adult, I believed that I needed to have that perfect perception as well, so I tried.
I remember when I worked in the corporate world, I would hear my mentors tell me, “it doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be done.” and I would come home with lists of things I still needed to get done and make perfect so I could present them at work the next day. I spent so many extra hours working because of my own need for perfection and looking back, I’m sure there’s not a single person that remembers the meticulously completed projects, or even had any idea how much time I put into them. I still remember Adam telling me as he would kiss me goodnight while I was still at the computer working, “it’s good enough”. And I remember my brain screaming back at him, “good enough?! There is no such thing!” I simply couldn’t understand how to stop with the perfectionism.
When I had children, this was the hardest moment as a perfectionist. I’d remember looking back at that circle of women that I remember from my childhood. The ones that all seemed to be perfectly dressed, have their hair and makeup done everyday, and get through the day with a permanent smile. I, on the other hand, was dealing with a preemie child that, still to this day, is incredibly emotional and needs extra attention to help him navigate those feelings. If you have a child like this, you know how tiring it can be to deal with a child that pushes back on everything you say and has a strong emotional response to everything you do. Even if you don’t have a child like this, toddlers are tiring. I was walking out the door everyday feeling a lot less than perfect.
There were days I would go to work and feel like I barely had it together. Two different shoes? Yep, I’ve done it. Mascara only on one eye? Yep, been there. Baby throw up all over my shoulder and didn’t realize it until well after lunch? Yes, that was me too.
The hardest part is that, instead of wearing these moments proud – like a badge of honor for surviving through motherhood, I was shameful about all of it. I was horrified, stressed out, and didn’t want anyone to see me. I would frantically call around to co-workers asking if they had an extra pair of shoes, because I couldn’t bare the idea of walking around the office with mismatching boots all day long.
The thing about perfection is that it’s a downward spiral. I had this need to keep topping my own perfection. How could I make this work assignment better than the last? More detailed? More time spent? It was unhealthy. And with every step further down the perfection spiral, I became less proud, and more shameful. I saw the flaws in my work that I was certain everyone else would see too. I saw the flaws in myself that, clearly in my mind, everyone else found unacceptable as well.
Pretty soon, I felt like people could see through my cover up of “trying to be perfect”. There are people in my life that have poked holes in my perfection, and when they did, it would hurt – bad. It felt like I was being ripped apart and my heart literally hurt. I realized something needed to change when perfectionism turned into anxiety. Not just, “I’m feeling anxious”, but full blown, doctor diagnosed, medicine prescribed, anxiety.
It wasn’t just any anxiety, it was postpartum anxiety. At the time of having my second baby, I had no idea postpartum anxiety even existed. I was very aware of postpartum depression, but anxiety? No clue. When I realized my anxiety was getting the best of me (another story for another day), I felt completely validated when I went to the doctor and they told me it wasn’t just “feeling tense all the time”. It was a lot more than that. And most of all – it wasn’t my fault. I wasn’t broken, and it was SO much more common than I even knew. But regardless, I was still shameful. Anxiety meant that I was definitely. not. perfect.
Since that day, I’ve showed up to countless therapy sessions to work through the idea that I defined as perfection, and allow myself to be aware of the moments when I feel that pull to be perfect. Social media is my biggest challenge right now, and ironically, so is my business.
When you’re a wellness coach, people seem to think you live for working out, eating kale, and drinking tons of lemon water. That your wellness routine is perfect. There’s a pressure in the industry to show up daily and be motivational, be positive, workout, and post IG stories about all the healthy food you made from scratch that day. This is not the case for me, but I’ve allowed this to create shame in my life instead just showing who I really am. I’ve spent hours writing social media posts, just to delete them, because they weren’t perfect enough. I’ve written blog posts that have never been posted, because they showed my flaws, and I’ve taken so many pictures that have never been shared because it I was worried about people being able to poke holes and hurt me.
The perfectionist in me would probably give in to those pressures and post pictures, write blog posts, and make appearances that all of that was happening. But, the real, genuine me loves an amazing wood fired pizza with red wine (or white wine, or craft IPA.). I don’t workout nearly as often as I should. I get so focused on my business that I forget to eat lunch some days. I go to the grocery store with no makeup on and looking, what I’m sure is, quite unacceptable in the eyes of others. And I stay up way too late some nights scrolling social media and comparing myself to all the perfect people out there. I promise you, that if you find yourself in the social media comparison trap, those people are not perfect either.
I am not perfect.
So instead, I’m choosing to be proud.
I’m proud of who I really am and being 100% okay if it doesn’t fit in the model of perfection I once believed was the only way to live as a woman.
I’m proud of my children for their personalities and who they will grow up to be. My son, although incredibly emotional, is also THE most loving human on the planet. His emotion is intensified because I believe he also feels emotion from others just as strong. And I know that will lead him to be an amazing adult someday that this world needs.
I’m proud that everyday, between the frustrated moments and tireless requests to pick up toys, make a point to I say “I love you” to my kids everyday and make sure they know how important they are to me.
I am proud to have taken the time to invest in myself and go to therapy to work through a time that was completely debilitating in my life. Therapy has helped me heal, grow and accept the things I cannot control. I would not be where I am today without it. If you are struggling through anxiety or depression, it’s not a sign of weakness to reach out and find a therapist that’s a good fit for you. It’s a sign of strength and responsibility that you’re doing the hard inner-work to get better.
I’m proud of the work I have put into my business and the incredible people and experiences I’ve had along the way. The impact I’ve watched in other’s lives. I made a major leap in my life when I left corporate life to pursue my own business. At first, I was shameful about the decision to do so, because there are people who didn’t understand why someone would leave a comfortable job for the unknown of entrepreneurship and I’m sure so many other thoughts of disapproval. But living a life of comfort was not what I signed up for. I knew, and still know to this day, that I am meant for more. And I’m proud of my drive and calling that leads me there.
Here’s the part I still am working on. In letting go of the perfection, it also means letting go to of what other people think, and accepting that there are people out there that will continue to judge, poke holes, and hurt.
At the core of it all, Perfect and proud are perceptions and feelings you create in yourself. YOU define what perfect is in your life. That might not align with the idea of perfect to your best friend, or your mom, or your co-worker, and that’s fine. Perfect is not a single definition, it’s what you make it. So, by letting go of the expectation to uphold to everyone else’s definition of perfect, you can stand proud for the definition you’ve created for yourself.
I’ve learned to embrace and accept that this definition of perfection that I’ve defined all my life might be something I have to continue to work on, just like anxiety. And through that journey, I will choose to be proud, and little by little, let go of the need to be everyone else’s perfect.