by Hanna Nichols (8)
I have come to believe we each live with our own brand of perfectionism–it may not look the same as the person sitting next to us, but it serves to act as impossible, sometimes invisible standards we set for ourselves. You might already have a good idea of where your perfectionism is rooted, or you might be like me, who was a self-identified non-perfectionist for most of my life. It wasn’t until quite recently it hit me that I too, had my own brand of perfectionism that permeated my life at work and at home. And it was a large contributor to ways I have been damaged by, benefitted from, and actively participated in systems of oppression.
If you’re still not sure you are a perfectionist…keep reading
When we hear the word “perfectionist,” a certain image might come up that is often the image we see in dominant culture–rigidity, unable to call something finished unless it meets the highest standard, needing to perform at the highest level in order to be successful, etc. I personally have never really identified with these specific images (although they are very real) and thus have always put myself in a different category. Yet, when you dig deeper into what defines perfectionism (there are many definitions out there, but they all circle around striving to meet high standards and not being satisfied with anything less), each one of us has some set of standards to which we hold ourselves and others that don’t align with reality. You might be able to identify your brand of perfectionism by listening hard to the voice of your inner critic. It might sound something like I’m only worthy if…
- I make sure the needs of everyone around me are met.
- I can maintain peace and harmony wherever I go.
- I can accomplish everything on my to-do list.
- I am at all the right “tables.”
- I always say the right thing.
- I am always prepared for what is asked of me.
How our perfectionism not only hurts us, but hurts our collective impact
We all carry it, even if it comes from different places and we experience it differently…
- Masking parts of us that have been shamed or hurt
- Protecting ourselves from further shame or hurt
- Coping from the trauma of past experiences
- A spoken or unspoken requirement because of high standards placed on us based on our race, gender, language, ability, or other aspect of our identity
This is not an exhaustive list, but my hope is that by seeing yourself in it you can know you are not alone.
As I’ve explored the roots and started the process of letting go of perfectionism, I’ve come to understand how much collective power can be built in each of us letting it go. It has made me wonder if the act of letting go of our perfectionism (yes, it is a conscious action) is a key to our collective liberation. I think of the times that I let my standards get in the way of making an impact…I was quiet when I needed to be loud, I chose pleasing over disappointing people in power, I prioritized harmony when leading groups in my role as a facilitator over creating a container for groups to wrestle with hard, but worthy ideas. In reality, perfectionism is a function of white supremacy and patriarchy that places us in seemingly possible, but realistically impossible environments and situations.
Leaning into the discomfort of “letting go”
I’m not going to lie, letting go of perfectionism is…uncomfortable, to put it lightly. Committing to being louder about things that matter, disappointing others, and rumbling over harmony is hard when the rubber hits the road. I have already stumbled (ack…failure!), spent a lot of time in discomfort (I am literally wriggling in my chair at the idea that you are reading this), AND the freedom that has come with the act of letting go makes it all well worth it. I invite you to join me in the process. It’s one wild ride!