The Burden of Perfectionism: Handling Mistakes and Always Coming Up Short

Anonymous asked a question:

Do you get angry with yourself when you seem to miss obvious things? Like I’m trying for years to be good at work and I feel that I can’t obtain what I’m trying to work towards. I look to make sure things are quality and somehow it seems missed. At least sometimes when I work for certain people. I feel conflicted on compliments and then comments for revisions. Maybe it’s the way it’s said. Maybe I want to be more. I don’t know what to think of myself, how to better myself. I try to do a good job.

Hey dear friend, yes. I think you’ve described the human experience.

We each live with a “phantom pain” of regret, of choices not taken, of missed opportunities, of always seeing what could’ve been. It’s hard to hear criticism not always because they’re wrong about us, but by the possibility that they’re right and that we could’ve done better.

A recent study of almost 42,000 college students shows that our sense of perfectionism has increased drastically. There are three measured types: self-oriented, other-oriented, and socially prescribed. The last one increased the most, by 32% in a span of almost the last three decades. Why? Because more than ever, we are constantly witnessing social prescriptions of “who you should be” through social media, phones, and modern narratives.

It’s impossible to avoid the narratives, “Better than yesterday” or “I am enough” or “You can do what you set your mind to.” When the truth is, sometimes we’re not better today, we are not enough, and our brains can trick us into impossible goals.

This is not a new idea, but we’re always grasping for the “who-I-want-to-be.” It causes immense pain. One of the ways to let this go is to grieve it. To let that go. Have the funeral for your perfect self. To simply know, sometimes you’re not enough, and that’s fine.

That’s not easy. After all, it’s good to strive for excellence and to do a good job. We do want to improve and hold ourselves accountable. But we’re throwing ourselves under a bus called perfection, and we are the drivers. Eventually you have to leave the bus. Sometimes good enough is good enough. And, well, not good enough is also enough.

May you find rest in grace, simplicity, and the grief of losing burdens never meant for you.

— J.S.

In my new book, I talk about the “idealized self,” perfectionism, and grasping for the elusive ideal.
You can grab my book here.

Photo from Unsplash.

2 thoughts on “The Burden of Perfectionism: Handling Mistakes and Always Coming Up Short

  1. Lets face it none of us are perfect. Those that think they are are the most imperfect because they cut down those that are more perfect than they are. I know a woman that wrote the bulletin for church and would make on average 3 mistakes per month but complained and got the pianist fired because she made 1 noticeable mistake in 4 months. The Bible says judge not lest you be judged. Every time you feel bad because you make a mistake a remember that your mistake probably wasn’t as bad as the persons mistake that judges you because their mistake is going against the Bible.


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