In our social media age, we’ve become focused on being perfect. We need to have the best job. The best body. The best relationship. The best friendships. Heck, even kids’ birthday parties, once the domain of musical bumps and a wonky home-made cake, have become a perfection contest with uber cakes, amazing party bags and fantastic venues.
Instagram is littered with inspirational quotes about excelling and pushing yourself to achieve your very best, but what if just good enough is um, actually good enough?
If anyone should know about trying to excel, it’s me. I was the first of my family to go to a grammar school and then onto university and I was determined to make it big in my career. I can’t deny I’ve been successful and that striving to be excellent has enabled me to land some brilliant jobs, but it came with a sacrifice. Mainly my mental health.
I learnt the hard way that giving a job 110% doesn’t get you more rewards or make you feel better. I busted a gut in one job, working long hours, always taking on more work and while I felt appreciated during my time there, when I decided I needed more, they simply turned round to say they couldn’t do that and that I should take the other job offer I’d had. All that striving. All that working so hard to be rewarded with nothing. Obviously I did get great job satisfaction, but looking back, I wished I’d taken my foot off the pedal a little and enjoyed the job, rather than trying to be better and better at it. I’ve never made that mistake since. I still make sure I give my best, but I’ll never burn the candles at both ends again. It just wasn’t worth it.
Maybe it’s not work with you – perhaps you’re striving to be the best parent? I know I’m guilty of that as well. Due to my son’s autism, I attended a managing children’s behaviour class, where I thought I’d be told off for my inadequacies. Instead the course leader asked us to raise a hand if our children were all alive and healthy, which we all did of course. ‘Job done’ she replied. She taught me that trying to be perfect is actually the enemy of good. In fact one British psychoanalyst D W Winnicott believed that being good enough as parents is infinitely better than being perfect. Good enough parents leave room for their children to grow into their own person, whereas perfectionists can overwhelm them, making their behaviour worse and hindering their development.
Perfectionism can also lead to ill-health. Studies have shown that perfectionists are naturally prone to stress, which can create a whole host of health problems such as high blood pressure, headaches and irregular periods. Then there’s the link between mental health problems. Perfectionists are often terrible at showing compassion to themselves and are skilled inself-criticism, both of which have been shown to increase symptoms of anxiety and depression in people.
So what can you do if you’re stuck on a perfection treadmill? First, up don’t wait until things are perfect. In fact, is there even such a thing as perfection? Even if you think you’ve done a ‘perfect’ job, I bet someone could find fault with it. How exhausting is it as well? Once you’ve set those high standards, you’ve got to maintain them and then that one time you only deliver 99%, you’ll start beating yourself up as the job wasn’t up to your standards.
Now I’m not saying don’t try your best, but I am saying, weigh things up before your launch yourself into them head first. That project at work may need you to work late several nights and miss lunch for a week or so and that may be worth it, however, do you need to then stay up until midnight creating the ultimate costume for your kid’s school play or baking a birthday cake for your mum? The kids won’t care if you’ve bought the costume and your mum will just be happy she had a cake to celebrate her big day.
When you remove the need to be perfect and excel at something, you open yourself up to creativity and room to try new things. If we’re constantly striving to be the best, how can we enjoy those ‘good enough’ moments that life is littered with?
How to be good enough
Don’t fear failure: Don’t worry about making mistakes. These are the things that help us grow. When we do things that are good enough, it leaves room for us to explore other avenues.
Understand that perfection is impossible: Life is in a constant stage of change, so even if something is perfect, it won’t stay like that forever.
Be realistic: Recognise that you are enough and lower your expectations. You don’t always have to be perfect to reach your goals.
Practice self-compassion: Keep an eye on all that negative thinking that goes on in your head. When you start thinking unkind thoughts about yourself, stop. Think about how you’d talk to a friend in that situation, with those thoughts, and tell yourself that instead.
Celebrate your wins: However small, do a little victory dance every time you achieve something. And by achieve I mean complete, not finish with sequins and glitter on top. Your latest bake may not have won GBBO, but it will keep your family happy – job done!
Ditch social media: Or if you can’t totally stay away, try limiting your time. I’ve stopped following all those Insta-Mums who make me feel totally inadequate with their ‘perfect’ lives, while I rejoice if the small child has survived yet another day and boy, do I feel better for it. The truth can’t be shown in a single image or video.
Don’t crave approval: You can’t live your life by other people and their standards – it’s just exhausting. As long as you know you’ve given what you can, that’s all that matters.
Learn to be present: Whether this is through meditation, yoga, breathing or just taking a moment to be still and appreciate where you are, being present is the best thing any perfectionist can do. It will make you appreciate what you’ve already achieved and help you connect to yourself in a way you can’t when you’re busy being perfect.
Ditch the multi-tasking: Juggling several things at once may make you feel like you’re excelling, but really, it means you’re not coping and it’s not as productive as you may think it is.
Adjust your expectations of others: Don’t judge everyone by your rule of 110%. Keep an open mind and see that everyone has different ways of getting to the same place.
Start living your life: Don’t wait until your house is perfect to invite friends over for dinner. Don’t wait until you have the perfect body until you wear a bikini. Don’t wait until your CV is perfect before your apply for your dream job. Your friends won’t notice a bit of dirt or the fact that the wardrobes are still very much flat-packed. No-one on the beach will care if you’ve not lost that stone. And future employers want to see where you worked not be wowed by your CV creation abilities.