It’s hard being a perfectionist. My son got his ATAR result today, which was amazing, and was offered a scholarship at one of Australia’s most prestigious universities. I am as proud as punch. He is disappointed. Why? Because his score wasn’t perfect. Even though it was brilliant, it wasn’t enough. His perception got me thinking about my pursuit of perfection.
I was at university part-time for seven years and consistently achieved High Distinction and Distinction grades. But I received one Credit in my final year. I cried for three days over that Credit. Because even though it was still a good mark (70+%) it wasn’t good enough. I had to get the best grade. Sadly, my son has learned perfectionism through imitation.
But even when I was the best, I raised the bar. Success was always just out of reach because if I achieved a goal, I raised the bar again. I moved from one goal to the next, seeking external validation to define my self worth, but never really feeling successful. Now that I am older, I see this goal-focus as a way of exerting a sense of control over my life. But this tunnel vision kept me small. The thing I yearned for – success – was what I was most afraid of. I was afraid to feel big in the world.
But it struck me today that I’m not a perfectionist anymore. I still take pride in my work, but I don’t berate myself for my shortcomings. I accept my humanity. I don’t have to be number one. I know I’m going to make mistakes – as are other people. I think the saddest aspect of perfectionism is that you don’t simply expect perfection of yourself, you expect it of everyone else too. So you are constantly disappointed.
Because humans are not perfect … nor are we expected to be. All that is required in life is that we show up each day and do our best. Some days we may be more compassionate or kind or brave than the day before. And other days we may be more impatient or ungrateful or intolerant than yesterday.
I have redefined my definition of success over the years. Success to me today is enjoying my work, being creative and finding joy in the little things. It’s such a simple definition and it allows me to feel hugely successful. And to me, my son is already hugely successful too – whether he accepts the scholarship or not.
Are you a perfectionist? Can you relate?