#LIFECOACH: Perfectionism is the f*ckup and the enemy

Eight years ago I was planning a wedding. My wedding. This is no small task as many of you know and to do it alone (my choice) was asking a lot of myself.

It didn’t help that I wanted a particular kind of wedding and was adamant I was going to have it. I planned everything down to the last detail; even the font on the wedding invitations.

I got the wedding I wanted. I don’t think I’ve ever worked so hard in my life. I was grateful that I worked part-time; it probably kept me from burning out. But it didn’t keep me from being totally out of control. My need to be totally in control was totally out of control. It was only years later that my closest friend told me how demanding I was to be around. My need to be perfect spilled over into everything; my work, my friends, my family. I wanted a picture I’d carried in my head for years and I was close to getting it. I needed to control everything around me for that picture to be absolutely 100% perfect in real life.

I didn’t know it then but I was in a state of mania. I couldn’t sleep; my thoughts raced all the time; the most insignificant things made me irritable or even unreasonably angry. My clinging to perfection had me anxious and on edge all the time. That undue stress that I placed on myself kicked me over into an state that made me a pain to be around, and which threatened my peace and stability of mind. I couldn’t rest until after the wedding, and of course I felt completely burned out after it.

I was exhausted. Things had gone off without a hitch. But that created a monster. I could control everything and everything would be perfect. It became my default thinking. Perfect. Perfect. Perfect.

The more I controlled the harder it got to let go. I was in knots all the time. But I didn’t realise that my perfectionism was controlling me – creating an illusion of control, and as we all know, illusions are always shattered.

Fast-forward eight years and as I write this I’m fine with a few dishes in the sink. It isn’t nagging at the edge of my consciousness.. It’s hard work but I try to not let those little things run my mind ragged any more. And as a result, I’m tired from trying, but not utterly depleted from constantly fixing things. I snap less and smile more, and am a little more peaceful.

I learnt the hard way that perfectionism isn’t something to aspire to – not in any aspect of my life. If anything, it makes everything worse.

No one can operate at 100% all the time. Not at work, not as a parent, a partner, a child; as a human being. Flaws are inherent, otherwise we’d all be the same. Imagine a world where everyone was the same? Boring right?

You think you could do without your partner never getting his socks in the washing basket, but if he gave up that little imperfection, maybe a lot more else of him would go as well. Maybe his habit of making your tea perfectly, or always noticing when you had a haircut. And I bet you’d miss shouting about the socks on the floor (for the record, I shout every time this happens. Every time.).

So these days when I see job advertisements that ask for perfectionists I pass them by – I can’t live that life any more. Not only does the drive towards perfectionism stress me out – it leads me back to the illusion of control.

It creates a world of black and white, instead of the real world in which there are shades of grey. It means that if one thing goes wrong it’s a catastrophe, when in reality no one but me noticed. It means I judge others for being imperfect. I lose control of the need to control.

When things get hairy, when I feel that panic rising that if I don’t do this perfectly something terrible is going to happen – I do my best to remember two things: I was never meant to be perfect, I am enough as I am, and the Serenity prayer – God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

It may seem fluffy and hokey – but accepting yourself as you are is a radical, powerful act. It means you can look in a mirror and see your beauty and not your flaws, which the world tells you you need to fix. Once you see the beauty and stop noticing the flaws, perfectionism and its partner, self-loathing, are sent packing.

Try it. You might like it. I know I did.

  • If the Serenity prayer isn’t for you, why not try this meditative mindfulness exercise in loving kindness – to be kind to yourself, and to others and accept yourself and others as they are, flaws and all.

Eight years ago I was planning a wedding. My wedding. This is no small task as many of you know and to do it alone (my choice) was asking a lot of myself. It didn’t help that I wanted a particular kind of wedding and was adamant I was going to have it. I planned everything down to the last detail; even the font on the wedding invitations.

I got the wedding I wanted. I don’t think I’ve ever worked so hard in my life. I was grateful that I worked part-time; it probably kept me from burning out. But it didn’t keep me from being totally out of control. My need to be totally in control was totally out of control. It was only years later that my closest friend told me how demanding I was to be around. My need to be perfect spilled over into everything; my work, my friends, my family. I wanted a picture I’d carried in my head for years and I was close to getting it. I needed to control everything around me for that picture to be absolutely 100% perfect in real life.

I didn’t know it then but I was in a state of mania. I couldn’t sleep; my thoughts raced all the time; the most insignificant things made me irritable or even unreasonably angry. My clinging to perfection had me anxious and on edge all the time. That undue stress that I placed on myself kicked me over into an state that made me a pain to be around, and which threatened my peace and stability of mind. I couldn’t rest until after the wedding, and of course I felt completely burned out after it.

I was exhausted. Things had gone off without a hitch. But that created a monster. I could control everything and everything would be perfect. It became my default thinking. Perfect. Perfect. Perfect.

The more I controlled the harder it got to let go. I was in knots all the time. But I didn’t realise that my perfectionism was controlling me – creating an illusion of control, and as we all know, illusions are always shattered.

Fast-forward eight years and as I write this I’m fine with a few dishes in the sink. It isn’t nagging at the edge of my consciousness.. It’s hard work but I try to not let those little things run my mind ragged any more. And as a result, I’m tired from trying, but not utterly depleted from constantly fixing things. I snap less and smile more, and am a little more peaceful.

I learnt the hard way that perfectionism isn’t something to aspire to – not in any aspect of my life. If anything, it makes everything worse.

No one can operate at 100% all the time. Not at work, not as a parent, a partner, a child; as a human being. Flaws are inherent, otherwise we’d all be the same. Imagine a world where everyone was the same? Boring right?

You think you could do without your partner never getting his socks in the washing basket, but if he gave up that little imperfection, maybe a lot more else of him would go as well. Maybe his habit of making your tea perfectly, or always noticing when you had a haircut. And I bet you’d miss shouting about the socks on the floor (for the record, I shout every time this happens. Every time.).

So these days when I see job advertisements that ask for perfectionists I pass them by – I can’t live that life any more. Not only does the drive towards perfectionism stress me out – it leads me back to the illusion of control.

It creates a world of black and white, instead of the real world in which there are shades of grey. It means that if one thing goes wrong it’s a catastrophe, when in reality no one but me noticed. It means I judge others for being imperfect. I lose control of the need to control.

When things get hairy, when I feel that panic rising that if I don’t do this perfectly something terrible is going to happen – I do my best to remember two things: I was never meant to be perfect, I am enough as I am, and the Serenity prayer – God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

It may seem fluffy and hokey – but accepting yourself as you are is a radical, powerful act. It means you can look in a mirror and see your beauty and not your flaws, which the world tells you you need to fix. Once you see the beauty and stop noticing the flaws, perfectionism and its partner, self-loathing, are sent packing.

Try it. You might like it. I know I did.

  • If the Serenity prayer isn’t for you, why not try this meditative mindfulness exercise in loving kindness – to be kind to yourself, and to others and accept yourself and others as they are, flaws and all.

Aneshree Naidoo is a personal development coach living and working in Johannesburg. She specializes in helping people achieve specific goals and overcome obstacles to personal growth including relationships, business, finance or health and wellness.

How to connect with Aneshree Naidoo


Disclaimer: The views and comments expressed in this piece are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Indian Spice. This opinion piece is in no way meant to minimise or demean the daily struggles people in poverty face.  


About Indianspice Staff Reporter

Report and write stories for Indianspice.co.za. It is our ambitious goal to cover issues/events/news concerning South Africa and the diaspora.

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