On the weekend I had a profoundly moving conversation with one of my very close friends, who also happens to be a coaching client.
It was one of those pristine moments of connection wherein we were both able to be completely vulnerable and trusting. Open and loving. Where we were talking almost from one soul to another, without all the fear, shame, ego and walls that we so often bring into conversations.
And it was this conversation – on perfectionism and how it plays out – that has had me reflecting all week.
I never really identified as a perfectionist. In my head, perfectionism was equated with conscientiousness. Those among us who worked studiously on something before putting it out into the world. Those of us who look gorgeous when we step out of the house. Or have everything clean.
And me, with my willingness to share my truth with the world unedited, imperfect and vulnerable. And me, with my messy closets. And me with my lack of attention to detail. And me with my issue of taking too much action, rather than not enough. I couldn’t identify as a perfectionist, right?
And then… a realisation. If perfectionism is simply a refusal to accept any standard short of perfection, then I wholeheartedly put my hand up and admit that I, too, am a perfectionist.
My perfectionism manifests, quite simply, as my belief in all or nothing. My mental pattern that denotes that life is a zero sum game, when it in fact, is not.
The beliefs that underpin my version of perfectionism include: everything must be done to completion or there is no point doing it; if something is started then it must be finished ASAP, something isn’t worth doing unless it’s done at 100%, there is no room for vulnerability, not knowing or being dependent.
This all or nothing approach is not only exhausting, it leaves little room for growth learning, failure and just being. The expectations that come with this approach are that something must look a certain way for me to feel success. My workshops must be sold out. I must be an expert. I must be equally a loving and nurturing mum as an educator and enabler. I must be exercising regularly or not at all.
And those expectations, as with all expectations, are what can keep us imprisoned in fear and uncertainty. The expectations are clung to so tightly they become suffocating – disallowing life to unfold in all its perfect imperfection.
So many clients I work with are held back by expectations like these. A deep held belief that wellbeing must look a certain way stops us from taking 5 minutes a day to nurture ourselves. Why would we start something – a new hobby, a class, a book – if we can’t finish it? Why would we follow our dreams when it feels there are so many roadblocks in the way? Why would we put something out into the world for fear of being judged? And so we choose to stay where we are, instead of working out what the next baby step toward that grander vision might look like. We choose to stay where we are instead of getting help. We choose to stay where we are instead of being a beginner at something and relishing the journey. We choose to stay where we are instead of being vulnerable.
I spend ALOT of time listening to podcasts – interviews with awesome people doing awesome things (it’s the best mum hack there is… getting ourselves inspired can really help with our mental and emotional outlook). And I can guarantee that the thing that sets them apart is that they constantly take action. They are constantly learning and growing even in the face of perceived failures. And they do things regardless of what people might think.
For myself, If I were not to question these beliefs or let go of these expectations regularly as part of my growth and practice, I would almost certainly have stopped enjoying life by now. Because according to those expectations, I would be constantly failing. Failing as a mum. Failing as a business owner. Failing as a wife.
Underneath perfectionism and expectations is a deep fear that we are not loveable. And so I’m compassionate to where my mental patterns come from and steadfast in my commitment to shining light on them. Convincing myself that I’m loveable, shedding expectations and staying in action – albeit imperfect – are ways that I continually try and evolve so as to live my version of wellbeing.
My sincere hope is that all of us – in our quest for our versions of wellbeing – come to understand the importance of mental and emotional patterns as much as we have come to understand the importance of diet and exercise.
A powerful motivator to move toward examining these beliefs is to ask ourselves ‘what would life look like if I loved myself unconditionally?’. If we all moved toward a more loving and forgiving space within ourselves, I know that we would be more compasssionate, fulfilled, inspired beings.