Wow. Just wow. I was going through documents on my computer and came across this word document entitled "Perfectionism." This was written three years ago and still holds true today. I can't remember why I didn't share this before, but here it is now. At a perfect (no pun intended) time.
Every day, we wake up and present our best selves to the world. But for me, just like so many others, we present our “perfectionist” selves to the world. We struggle to be “perfect” and “likeable” and “on” all the time. But in the end, where does that get us?
Do you find yourself always saying yes to everyone, even when you really want to say no? Do you find that you attend events, meetings, parties, etc. only to come home completely drained? This is how I’ve been my entire life. I overextend myself in every aspect of my life, and I don’t stop until I literally come crashing to a halt. I wake up and my body and mind are like, “Nope…it’s not happening today. There will be no “functioning” going on. May as well go back to sleep.”
This, unfortunately, is the bane of all perfectionists’ existence. We aim to please and we aim to be “perfect,” in everybody’s eyes. This, however, is so completely draining. We strive to be the “perfect” child growing up; we have to get good grades and make sure our parents are proud of us. Then, as we head off to college, we have to get into the BEST school and of course, make straight A’s! Anything less would be a catastrophe. And don’t forget, after graduation from college, you MUST get the PERFECT job! It better be the one that you will make the most money and that you will excel at!! And what?? You’re 33 and not married?! Holy crap! How did that happen in your perfect little world??
Does this sound like you? Because it sure as heck was me! Let me go back to my childhood to help explain it a little better.
My parents divorced when I was 5. And I don’t really remember much about it other than my mom remarried a Navy man and we moved from Charleston, SC, to San Pedro, CA. I had a “normal” childhood with all the bumps and bruises and scars to prove it. But I can remember always putting this immense pressure on myself, both in and outside of school. I had to get perfect scores at school and I would be so disappointed if I got in trouble for something. I think I beat myself up more than my parents or any teachers at school! I felt like I had to be this perfect little child so that my parents would love me. It sounds silly to say it out loud, but I can remember feeling that way…and I felt that way all the way through college and into my career!
I’d constantly ask for my mother’s approval (she was my main caregiver growing up). I’d ask if what I was doing was okay or the right thing to do. And I’ll admit, I still do that today, sometimes too much. It’s definitely a hard habit to break. I just recently asked both my parents if they would be okay if I never had children. This, in essence, is asking them if they’d still love me if I didn’t have kids. What?!?! That’s crazy, right?! Of course my parents would love me, no matter what. But in my head, I had to do the “right” thing…you know, get married, have kids, etc.
But I definitely didn’t do things the traditional way. After college, at the age of 22, I got an amazing job with the government as a criminal investigator…yes, six months after graduation! I did all the “right” things in college, per my mom’s advice. I majored in criminal justice and minored in accounting, and I got great grades (all that pressure on myself paid off!). So I got into the government under the Outstanding Scholar Program (they no longer have this program, but it certainly helped me!). And I thought, “Okay, here is when my life starts. I have a great job, now to find the “perfect” husband, get married and have kids.”
I went through a series of boyfriends, always wondering if the guy I was with was “the one.” Even when things weren’t the greatest, I brushed it aside and acted as if the relationship was perfect. I needed people to believe that my relationships were awesome (don’t ask me why). And when they failed, because when you are trying to force perfection, they always fail, I would beat myself up mercilessly. I was so much harder on myself than anyone else ever could be.
Now, here I am, 33 years old, single, never been married, no kids. I’ve been pseudo-engaged once (yes, that’s what I’m calling it because he had the ring, but hadn’t yet asked me, and we were planning the wedding), and I’ve lived with a couple boyfriends…one who I thought was the real deal. If you had asked me 10 years ago where I’d be in 10 years, I would have said married with two kids and settled into my career. There’s no way I would’ve thought I’d still be single, wanting to change my career path, no children, and on the tail ends of yet another failed relationship.
And I realized something about this and my other “failed” relationships. All of our relationships can’t be “perfect” or last forever, right? Without these relationships, we wouldn’t know what we want or what we’re willing to put up with. But after examining my relationships, I further realized that I wasn’t learning what I needed to learn from them. I kept getting into similar situations, because I wasn’t learning anything and using those lessons in my next relationship(s).
As part of my perfectionist problem, I had stopped listening to my intuition…to my gut instincts. I wanted so badly to find the “perfect” man to spend my life with…so I overlooked the small things…those red flags that scream at you that something is wrong. I stopped listening to my friends and family…I brushed everything aside and told myself this was how a relationship was supposed to be. I don’t know if you’re like me, but I thought having arguments and getting angry with your significant other was the norm. So I put up with a lot. And when the relationships ended, I could look back and see so very clearly all the red flags that were there at the beginning. And I kept asking myself, “What the heck?! Why didn’t you listen to yourself??”
Of course, I also looked back and beat myself up about the relationship. What could I have done better? What could I have done differently? How did I end up with another failed relationship? What was wrong with me? I could go on and on with the questions I asked and how I criticized myself again and again. Because in my mind, it was all my fault!!
It took me YEARS to come to terms with the fact that it takes two!! Yes, I may have brought my own issues into a relationship, but guess what? So did the other person!! And if two people don’t mesh, it’s not going to last, no matter how hard you try! I mean, you could act “perfect” in your relationship and act how the other person wants you to act, but where does that leave you? You end up resenting the other person and the relationship and you end up completely miserable!!! Believe me, I know. I did this FAR too many times!!
And even worse, I would change who I was for these guys…I gave up a lot of who I was and what I wanted for them. For instance, in my pseudo-engagement, I was going to sell my house and move to Kansas City for him…even though I was unhappy in our relationship and I had a lot of doubt and trust issues with him.
And with my latest relationship, I gave up even more. I rented my house out and moved in with him after only dating for three months. I knew when we started dating that he didn’t really want any more children (he already had three), but he told me he would be willing to discuss it should I (yes, I) decide I wanted kids. About a month and a half after moving in with him, he told me he didn’t want any more kids…that he thought it was something he could get over and eventually want more with me, but he couldn’t get over it. And you know what I did? I said, “Okay. I’m happy with you and with your kids and I don’t need to have any of my own.” Yes, after wanting children my whole life, I was willing to give that up for this man. I made excuse after excuse why I was okay with that decision.
I think I’m still in awe over that. Because, let’s be honest, I was less than happy with him. I had my own doubts and felt like I’d been walking on eggshells around him…like anything I did or said was going to piss him off. And there was a lot of distrust on both our parts. He didn’t feel like he could be friends with his friends that were girls because of me…and I thought that he was hiding things from me when it came to those friends that were girls, amongst other things. I’m surprised we lasted 6.5 months.
And you want to know the real kicker with both of these relationships?? At the beginning of both of them, there were a lot of red flags and things that were screaming at me to walk away. But I brushed them aside…I don’t know if this was because I wanted to be in a relationship so badly or because I thought I was just being silly and overthinking the situation. And from the beginning, there were always little voices in my head saying it was too good to be true or little doubts in the back of my mind.
I think women, in general, do this more than men. We don’t listen to ourselves or our gut instincts, because we want so badly to please everyone else. What I’ve taken away from my latest relationship is that I MUST learn to listen to and trust my intuition. When something doesn’t feel right or I have a nagging doubt in my mind, I HAVE to listen to it! I don’t have to have a reason, I don’t have to understand it, but I have to learn that it is definitely telling me something. Because we all have our intuition and our gut instincts and whether you believe it or not, they are ALWAYS right!! There is no rhyme or reason for it, but our intuition always knows. I’ve started meditating so I can get more in tune with my intuition. The next step is to actually listen to it when it’s speaking to me…and to stop brushing my feelings to the side!! Because, seriously, my feelings mean something, darn it!!
I also beat myself up at work, among other parts of my life. If I’m not giving 110% to everything in my life, I feel like a total failure. This results in total burn out on my part. I mean, when I was in college, I can remember calling my mom after an open book test in my tax class (for my accounting minor) because I had gotten a C or a D (I don’t remember the exact grade, but I was NOT happy with it). I mean, I was literally crying, saying how stupid I was and that I wanted to drop the class. How could I have done so poorly on an OPEN BOOK TEST, for pete’s sake?? And yes, this is how I was for EVERYTHING. If I got less than A on anything to do with school, I thought I was a complete failure. I called myself stupid and worthless and all the other words that went along with those feelings.
But why? Why did I continue to do that to myself? Did it make any difference? In the end, did I get anything out of it? Did it improve who I was as a person? Did I learn anything from beating myself up and calling myself names??
No – if anything, this made it all worse! I believe that it meant that my own worst enemy was between my own two ears! I was hardest on myself! My parents loved me no matter what I did (or didn’t do). My friends…my true friends loved me no matter what! And for the guys who were in and out of my life, I learned I was okay without them in my life! I survived every difficult situation I’d been in…and I will survive any difficult situation I’m put in in the future. Because you know what? My track record for surviving has been 100%!!
And I learned that I can’t talk to myself that way…it doesn’t do me any good and in fact, only hurts me more. Because what we tell ourselves on a daily basis is what we believe, and what our mind believes, our body believes. I wouldn’t talk to my friends or family that way, so why did I think it was okay to talk to myself that way? I’m not stupid or worthless or fat or crazy…I’m a human being who makes mistakes, because that’s what we do. I am not perfect, despite how hard I tried to be perfect. And with every mistake, I learned valuable lessons about who I was, what I wanted, and where I needed to be in my life.
That was where I ended this document. I'm not sure what I was thinking at the time, but I know that I have continued to grow and learn lessons from everything I've gone through. So here I am, 36 years old, coming out of a marriage that I thought was forever. Still no kids, which I am okay with at this point in my life. I couldn't even fathom going through this if I had children of my own.
What I do know is that I am still not perfect. I am a work in progress. But I am strong and successful and powerful and happy. Life has certainly been a journey...a far from perfect one. But a journey nonetheless.
So my advice to you is to stop being so hard on yourself. Speak kindly to yourself. Give yourself a break; cut yourself some slack. We are all works in progress and deserve grace and love, even from ourselves.
Have a beautiful week. Take care of yourself. Love yourself.
With love and wellness,