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The First Steps To Overcoming Perfectionism

If you’re a perfectionist, you probably already know it. You like things to be “just so”—so you’ll work hard to get a 4.0, or you’ll get mad at yourself if you’re late for a class. There’s no room for messing up because that’s not in the equation.

The perfection equation: (I do everything perfectly) + (I don’t make mistakes) = I am PERFECTION!!!

So obviously there’s something wrong with this equation. There’s no way that you’ll be able to do everything perfectly, and there’s absolutely no way to not make mistakes. And really, if you go around shouting “I AM PERFECTION,” you probably won’t make many friends.

My name is Jesse, and I’m a perfectionist in recovery.

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I used to think that perfectionism was only good. Because I pushed myself in every aspect, I was successful in school, and I was the star child. I did what I was told, and I did what was expected. Somehow, I was able to figure out how to shimmy my way through the perfection equation with a little effort.

Then, one day I realized that because of the situation I was in, I couldn’t meet my goals, and I couldn’t perform as expected. It was a hard reality, which led me into what I call a downward-spiral. My thoughts became more and more negative until I was diagnosed with situational depression. I ended up in counseling, trying to figure out what was wrong with me. The answer is that there are quite a few things that are wrong with me, but what had led to my depression? The overarching reason appeared to be my perfectionism. Perfectionism was what was wrong with me.

Because I hadn’t been able to meet the expectations of others (whether or not they thought they were projecting expectations), I was upset. My whole life had been about being the perfect child and perfect student and perfect whatever-the-role-was. And suddenly I wasn’t the perfect anything. It was a hard realization—that I couldn’t be perfect.

It may seem obvious, but I learned that I was mortal, and as a consequence of that, I was going to have weaknesses, and I was going to make mistakes.

Step 1: Admit You Are Weak And You Make Mistakes.

The next step was one I learned in a book by Wendy Ulrich (who has a Ph.D. and an M.B.A. #nbd) called Weakness Is NOT Sin. She talks about how we should look at personal development as a journey. At first, I wasn’t convinced. How was I just supposed to be okay with things not being perfect? But like any good self-help book, this idea was repeated over and over again. Until finally, I understood it and believed it.

Step 2: See Life As A Journey.

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Here’s a little taste of what’s in this book

For almost two years now, I’ve been trying to think of my progression as a journey. I can’t be perfect right now, but the little things I do each day can eventually make me perfect. I’ve since learned that the word “perfect” isn’t about the type of “perfect” that we usually think of: “Having all the required or desirable elements, qualities, or characteristics; as good as it is possible to be.” Rather, the word “perfect” means to be “whole” or “complete.”

In the Bible, in Matthew 5:46, it says, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” I used to fret over that idea and beat myself up over every little mistake because of that scripture. Then someone taught me that the Greek translation of the word “perfect” is “whole”—and not the definition that we normally associate with the word “perfect.” And then I understood that life is a journey.

We don’t have to be perfect right this instant. Perfection—wholeness—comes with time. I’ll get there eventually, but for now, I’ll just try to do the best I can on my journey.

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