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My Imperfect Relationship With Perfection

It doesn't matter how hard we try, there is no point at which we can say we have reached perfection. There is only the exhaustive strain for a goal that will always be out of reach.
Sharpened pencil next to unsharpened pencils
Sharpened pencil next to unsharpened pencils

Two years ago, I wasn't the same person I am now. I think back to that woman and I don't even know her anymore. All I know is I wish I'd loved her and cared for her more. She didn't need me to constantly tell her that she wasn't good enough. She didn't need me to belittle her for every unmade bed, every extra kilo or every day she didn't tick every single box.

What she needed was for me to love her and tell her she was okay, just as she was. And I couldn't. Because I was too busy trying to prove to the world that I had what it took, when really, deep down, I was drowning in shame and the belief that no matter what I did, I would never be enough anyway.

This is the paradox of perfectionism. It doesn't matter how hard we try, we will never get there. There is no point at which we can say we have reached perfection. There is only the exhaustive strain for a goal that will always be out of reach.

There's nothing wrong with striving to be the best version of ourselves that we can be. But that is never what it is about in the heart of a perfectionist. It is striving for your acceptance and your approval. It is all about what you think of me, not what I think of me. It is the belief that if I do everything perfectly, then I can avoid your shame and judgment. I can avoid ever feeling out of control.

And I know for me, back then, I felt if I were to let go of control, even for a second, I would begin to unravel. And so I grasped tightly to my control -- held onto my perfectionism like a security blanket.

This is how I lived many years of my life. Too many wasted years of exhaustion, unhappiness, lack of fulfillment and an inability to enjoy life. Too many years that took me away from my family and the person I wanted to be. And then, one day, life slapped me in the face. A complete physical, emotional and spiritual breakdown landed me at the ground zero of my life.

It was the best thing that could have happened to me.

My journey out of perfectionism and into the person I am today hasn't been an easy one, but I would never trade it. It has brought me the freedom to enjoy a life I've always wanted, but never knew how to have. Life, for me, has now become a myriad of choices I make every day to live whole-heartedly and not get pulled back into the destructive and addictive cycle of perfectionism.

It means, first and foremost, that no matter what gets done, and how much is left undone, I believe I am enough.

It means giving myself permission... to make mistakes, to fail, to leave things unfinished, to let go of control, to be flawed and messy and human...

It means making the choice to no longer care what anyone thinks of me. To let go of the need to compare myself to anyone.

It means no longer basing my self-worth on my level of productivity. Instead, listening to my body, resting when I need to and knowing that I am no less worthy because I didn't cross everything off my to-do list.

It means setting healthy boundaries and looking after myself first. It means recognising when I am running on empty and taking the time to recharge. It means keeping check of my priorities and making sure my needs and the needs of my family come before others.

It's not selfish. It's self-care. Two very different things that, sadly, have been blurred to be one and the same.

It means letting go of everything I think I am supposed to do instead of embracing what I want to do, what I was created to do, what makes me come alive.

It means no longer seeing writing as a waste of time. Writing is what fulfills me and makes me feel like I am contributing something unique to the world. When I write, the house gets messy, the laundry piles up, my husband makes dinner the nights I'm stuck in the zone. And the beautiful thing is: that's okay. And I know that now.

It means scheduling time for me -- to have fun, to play, to have coffee with a friend, to read books in the sun, to take long walks on the beach, to watch movies, to journal and to daydream.

It means loving my body and exercising to keep healthy, not to punish myself. Choosing to see my body as beautiful and an outward expression of my inward soul. Nurturing it, caring for it and not hating it simply because it doesn't live up to the image of beauty that society portrays.

It means some days styling my hair and wearing make-up, and some days not. And being okay either way, knowing that my beauty does not come from outward appearance, but is a reflection of my heart, mind and soul.

It means cleaning my house not because I'm obsessively driven by the need for it to look perfect, but because my creative mind comes to life when I am surrounded by clean space, not clutter. That's just a part of who I am and how I best function. It's no longer about what you think, but about how I best thrive.

Brene Brown says: "Perfectionism is a 20 ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it's the thing that's really preventing us from taking flight."

There are still times I feel myself being drawn into my old perfectionist ways. But I know I could never go back to living that life. It is such an exhausting, soul-destroying way to live. There is no room for spontaneity, creativity, growth, change and a life lived with joyful abandon.

And I know that the woman I am when I let go of perfectionism, when I mindfully choose to live unencumbered from that, is the woman I want to be. She is the one who is free to take flight.


You can find Kathy Parker on her blog, This Girl Unraveled.

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