Being a perfectionist is stressful. I get it. I consider myself a recovering perfectionist. I’ve made a lot of progress. I’ve learned to let go of a lot of things, to relax and enjoy my life, to be nicer to myself, and to take more risks. I’ve come to realize that people don’t actually give much thought to my shortcomings.

Growing up I was a people-pleaser and a high achiever. I was a shy kid who didn’t want to make mistakes or do new things (where I might fail). Ironically, because I felt so imperfect, it wasn’t until I was an adult that I identified as a perfectionist.

For me, being a perfectionist was about being so good, so compliant, and so safe that I would blend into the background. I didn’t want my flaws discovered. My biggest fear was that I really wasn’t as good as everyone else. I put an awful lot of unnecessary pressure on myself.

I know that there are a lot of others feeling the same way. So, here are the top 10 perfectionist things I did:

  1. Rewrite emails two, three, four times.
    I couldn’t bear for someone to see a misspelled word and judge me because of it. Now I just do my best and don’t worry about it. Heck, this article probably has grammatical mistakes in it, but you don’t care, do you?
  2. Rearrange the dirty dishes in the dishwasher.
    Did you know there is only one correct way to load the dishwasher? I’ve been known to rearrange the dishwasher after the kids and hubby have put their dirty dishes in it.
  3. Obsessively be on time.
    Being late was a huge source of embarrassment. I could feel everyone’s eyes on me when I got to a meeting or church service late.
  4. Plan ahead.
    In my younger years I was not a spontaneous person. I needed to know what to expect or I’d get anxious. I not only needed a plan, but things had to go according to plan.
  5. Study hard and learn everything.
    I thought I had to know everything or I’d look foolish and people would think I was a hack.
  6. Follow the rules.
    I’m actually still largely a rule follower, but growing up I didn’t want to get in trouble or be criticized. Over 30 years later, I still remember the intense shame I felt when a teacher yelled at me for pushing in line.
  7. Brush off compliments.
    I was so busy criticizing myself that I really didn’t believe a compliment. I’d do the “oh, you’re just saying that” or “it’s nothing.”
  8. Be quiet.
    I figured the less I said, the fewer mistakes I would make. I worried I’d say something dumb. I knew the teachers were lying and there really were stupid questions.
  9. Work hard and only relax when all the work is done.
    The problem was that the work was never done. I’ve learned that rest and play are important and actually essential to good health and productivity.
  10. The house needs to be tidy.
    Having my things and space organized and orderly gave me a sense of calm and dependability. I liked knowing where to find things. I confess that I’ve been known to rant and rave when I come home to a messy house. I’m definitely still working on this one.

Perfectionism isn’t forever. I now can see that most of the judgment and criticism was all in my head. I was the only one belittling and shaming myself. No one else was expecting perfection. I was my own worst enemy. And the good news was that I could learn to love my humanness.

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