Written by: Charneise Alston, M.Ed
Hello, my name is Charneise and I am a recovering perfectionist. My unhealthy addiction to perfectionism far exceeded my desire to strive for excellence. There is a huge difference, I believe. I used to have an abstract perception of control? I left little to no room for error. If I was assigned a task, I ensured that it would be immediately completed because I wanted everyone to know that I could handle anything.
Yes, I was the Olivia Pope in my world, solving problems as they arise. It was not until years later when I realized that my unhealthy need to always be in control was counterproductive. As life continued to add more and more balls to my juggling act, I realized that eventually I would lose my rhythm. Ultimately, my unrealistic standards and expectations would interfere with my ability to stay in control. And just like that, my peace of mind was compromised the minute I missed a deadline and failed to complete a task.
The enormous amount of pressure that I would unfairly place upon myself to reach an unattainable satisfaction was steadily keeping me on the hamster wheel. In the long run, I learned that the appearance of having it altogether fueled my insatiable need to be perfect. And, guess what? As great as I was at executing tasks, something else was always left unchecked. Although I cleaned the house, prepared dinner, and even completed a load of laundry, I did not make it to the gym.
In the fall of 2009, I decided to enter a graduate program for my Master of Education degree. During that time, I worked a demanding full-time job and became a full-time student at Wilmington University. As I approached the final semester in my graduate program, my rent increased which motivated me to buy a house. I voluntarily added a new variable to the equation, unnecessarily. Have no fear, my superwoman complex was in full-mode and I began juggling.
I would work an eight-hour shift, then sit in a three-hour lecture hall, and finally consult with my realtor about prospective properties during my drive home. Looking back now, I was certainly overextended. While multitasking is not unhealthy in itself, my standards and expectations contaminated my efficiency. In order to handle most of my responsibilities, a few things consequently suffered. I was not receiving an adequate amount of rest, which is essential for the healing and repairing of your physical and mental health. I was killing myself trying to be perfect in all areas of my life.
Many people wrestle with social comparisons. Thanks to social media highlighting the best reels of people’s lives, some individuals have falsely curated a “perfect” life. They choose to hide their realities by glossing over their imperfections with a photo filter. While secretly suffering in silence, they choose to present a life without spot or blemish. For instance, those marriages that appear “too good to be true,” void of hard work and hardships, are typically creating a false standard for others to envy. The family that is drowning in debt but is lavishly living outside of their means appears “perfect” to outsiders who are unaware of the truth.
Being anyone other than yourself is exhausting. As a working mother, I know first-hand that everything cannot get done in one day. There are not enough hours in a day to do everything alone. By the end of the night, I had to accept that the unchecked tasks that did not receive the time or energy to be completed on a Monday was available for Tuesday. I created boundaries, realistic deadlines, and learned to say no. I did not have to be married by a certain age to have a perfect love story. My toddler did not have to be fully potty-trained by the age of two for me to feel proud. I embraced my life as-is and saw the beauty of my imperfections.
Self-efficacy is the balance of knowing both your abilities and limitations. There are days when I am feeling my best, my skin is glowing, the scale is agreeing with my imaginary weight, and life is good. However, on those same days, my toddler is sneakily coloring on her bedroom walls, my boss throws an unexpected task on top of my desk, and a family member is in need of financial rescue. When we admit our brokenness, we can allow for true authenticity and connection. People want to relate to what is real, not what is perfect.
I often hear singles complain about dating. After intently listening for a while, I realize that some singles are seeking to find a “perfect” person. On the other hand, I frequently hear married couples holding off to have children, buy a home, start a business, or even take a vacation because they are waiting for the “perfect” time. Our unrealistic expectations impede on our success whenever we prefer perfection. Admittedly so, we overlook quality people and opportunities because we are imprisoned to our inflated insecurities.
Yes, “perfectionism is a self-fulfilling prophecy of low self-esteem.” I often warn parents to not instill perfectionism into their children by valuing grades over a child’s best efforts. Unfortunately, that was my childhood experience. I recall in middle school getting As and one B on my report card, and crying. I know, it sounds extreme but it is actually true. My mother did exactly what I expected, she gazed past five As and focused solely on the B. Instead of saying, “Good job!” She said, “Next time do your best, this is not excellent.” I was crushed and whether she knew it or not, she had sown a bad seed of perfectionism. How many times have you overlooked the good to focus on the bad?
I urge you to not focus on the “perfect” outcome, so much so, that you inadvertently dismiss the process. It is in the process that we become refined. Stop hiding your truth to parade a fictitious facade. Nobody’s life is perfect, so embrace the life that you were given in its entirety. The goal of Plenty Ink is to be transparent about life issues affecting adults to show that you are not alone. One of my personal mantras is: transparency is transformative. By living an unashamed authentic life, we express humility and freedom through our imperfections.
“There is no perfection, only beautiful versions of brokenness.”
~Shannon L. Alder~