Undoing Series: Our Perfectionist Culture

I am going to make a massive generalisation and say that many of us in the Western world are struggling (or have) with perfectionism. This is not a diagnosis or anything, but I think many of us want to (or try to) be perfect and can often take this too far.

Have you ever thought or said the following?

  • I can’t post this photo, I look weird or the angle is off (when you’re not even a photographer or have a photography account so it doesn’t matter)
  • I don’t want to start/try yoga (INSERT THING HERE) because I’ll look stupid
  • It’s still not ready yet (*Spongebob voice* 20 years later…)
  • I only got a B…I’m useless and a failure and I will never get a good job or have a house or do anything with my life worthwhile
  • I didn’t tick off everything on my to-do list, I’m a failure

They may seem extreme, but we all have thought this at least once, right? And why? Because to be anything but perfect means you’re weak, a failure, useless, unworthy, trash… Erm, no.

“If I can’t be perfect, I can’t speak” – Brene Brown

The oh so wise Brene Brown speaks a lot about perfectionism, so I’d highly recommend you to read or listen to her work if you haven’t already. I’m going to say that our culture is very perfectionist, hence we as people are. Only if you have parents who have broken this cycle will you, perhaps, have a healthier mindset in regards to your actions and your success.

Because perfectionism is about feeling like if you fail you will be shunned by society. That if you don’t get validation from others as being the best, that means you’ll die alone. This may seem hilarious (because it kind of is) but our evolution solidifies this idea.

In the past, if we weren’t accepted then we risked being alone and therefore vulnerable to the wilderness of sabretooth tigers and mammoths eating us or something. That we’d starve alone without our tribe. So, I get it, but we’re not cavemen anymore, my friends.

Think about it, we all love a good underdog story. We love seeing people go from failure to success. We love to be inspired by stories of struggle…and yet, we don’t let ourselves struggle and fail. Why?

You might be thinking: what is wrong with wanting to be the best? And I hear you. But these aren’t the same thing. Wanting to be your best means striving for better and perseverance and learning and growing, right? But perfectionism is “I’m not worthy unless I am seen as perfect” which is unobtainable and paralysing.

There’s no point in my doing this thing unless I can do it perfectly! And so, I’m not even going to try. What kind of nonsense is that?!

But this is perfectionism and knowingly or unknowingly, we are all falling victim to it.

Perfectionist thoughts I’ve had

  • I’m too scared to go to a yoga class until I’m good at yoga at home (wow, so silly!)
  • I don’t want to start a podcast because I don’t have the right voice or equipment to be popular
  • Why can’t I be the best at my job in my team?
  • Everyone is going to laugh at me for being a poor (reader, writer, speaker, yogi, activist, employee, etc.)

Perfectionism is linked to shame and fear. It’s the fear of failure. The fear of everyone judging you. The fear that what other people think or the outcome of something you do means you’re not worthy and therefore you can’t possibly live.

We damage our mental health by being unaware of our perfectionist thoughts. We self-sabotage and hold ourselves back in life by aiming to be perfect and not allowing ourselves to be just good; to fail and try again. We hurt ourselves again and again by holding ourselves to a standard that is unrealistic and unreachable.

We combat perfectionism by…

  • Accepting that we can’t be good at everything
  • Being the beginner and have a growth mindset (learning and growing through challenges)
  • Actively trying new things and allowing ourselves to be bad at first
  • Celebrating others in their achievements and the things they are better at
  • Embracing “good enough” in the things we do
  • Understanding our shame triggers
  • Laughing at ourselves
  • Getting back up when we don’t succeed
  • Not comparing ourselves to others (especially those who are in a completely different place in their lives to us! Financially, culturally, values, beliefs, goals etc.)

Not succeeding isn’t the same as failure. Failure is quitting. Failure is a colossal f-up which most of us won’t have. Instead, if something wasn’t the best, you’ll live. You can try again. If something didn’t go to plan, that’s fine, try a new angle. If something was graded a massive F, then still, you get to do better next time.

With the mindset of “failure doesn’t hurt me” or “failure doesn’t dictate my future,” you free yourself from a perfectionist mindset and a perfectionist culture.

Perfect is the enemy of good – Voltaire

Keep checking back each week for a new post about Undoing the Control, Create, Compete culture cycle!


S. xx

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