How to use perfectionism to your advantage

Oct 31, 2019

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Perfectionism. We all have heard of it. It’s something that can drive many people to despair and inadequacy. Society has been making a big push to help everyone cast away the strive for perfectionism like a sickness. I am a perfectionist. When I hear people talk about perfectionism, everyone seems to talk about how they need to work on eliminating it from their lives. As if it was this big problem that one needs to get rid of. A bad trait or quality. A bad habit. Yet, perfectionism means to strive for excellence. It’s something that we need. Here’s why! 

As a teenager I was often called a perfectionist my many of my friends, but for many years I didn’t recognize it in myself. They would basically tell me that I thought I was perfect. It really bothered me actually that others said that about me. I was honestly just trying to be the best version of my own self. I never labeled that as considering myself perfect. I just was happy with who I was and what I was doing. I had super high goals and I was channeled into them. Guilt free and happy.

For example in high school I was one of the top students in my class. Everyone prided of how cool they were for banking their school tests. But I wanted to go to college from my tiny island in Spain, to the United States. So I didn’t care what everyone else was doing. I had a big goal to achieve. My friends would laugh and sometimes tell me I was dumb and just cared to memorize tests. Maybe it’s true. But honestly now I don’t care. They were honestly just trying to find flaws in me. 

But looking back it’s true that I was trying hard not to ever make a mistake. When I would get mad at my siblings I remember I would whisper to stay calm. But I was also a lot more confident because I didn’t question who I was and what I was doing.

Until I grew tired. Until I started noticing I was making more mistakes than I wanted to. At one point in my life I saw how it started to affect me in a negative way. I was often dissatisfied with whom. I was and feeling bad and sad because of it. It started when I became a mother.

Motherhood kicked my butt. I was no longer as great of a mom as I had dreamt I would be. I would lay down at night and go over everything I did wrong that day, and go to bed feeling awful. I was doing this day after day for years. I was stuck feeling bad for not being perfect. Every day we all make mistakes, yet I couldn’t accept who I was and what I was doing.

I loved receiving help from a therapist to help me recognize that I was stuck on a negative thinking pattern. The way I was able to overcome it, was by realizing that I wasn’t taking the time to see the good that I was doing. Even when I made mistakes, my intentions had almost every time been good. Eventually I learned that there is redemption from mistakes and that we can try again. That it’s ok to accept and love ourselves when we make mistakes. 

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I remember during this time as I was trying to accept myself, I had to work on almost not trying to improve myself, but rather be ok with who I was.

Eventually the time came for me to add another layer to this. It’s kind of funny how it happened. I remember one night watching tv and seeing Fredrik Eklund on Million Dollar Listing. Fredrik often mentioned in one of  the episodes how he strived for perfection and expected perfection in many aspects of his career. Could it be that perfectionism could be turned into a powerful and positive weapon? What if we accept it and view it a a strength that drives us to be better?

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I eventually came to realize that it is in our nature to want perfection. And while we need to accept that we will not get there in this life, but rather in the life to come (as said by President Nelson of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day-Saints), perfectionism is what constantly pushes me forward. We need this drive to help us to want to be more.  to become better and want to improve each day. We need perfectionism to expect more of ourselves and to succeed. By striving for excellence in all that we do, we achieve great things.

The secret is to not beat ourselves up in the process if we don’t succeed. The secret behind it is to learn to laugh at our mistakes, and enjoy ourselves if we are not yet where we want to be. And many times we will not be where we want to be quite yet. Most of what we do is a process and a journey and we need to remember to laugh along the way, give ourselves more chances, and not be so critical of ourselves. But look at our intentions and trust that we truly mean well and that we can correct any issue or problem that may come along the way or that we might get ourselves into.

Perfectionism can be a strength in a way that drives us, takes us places. Perfectionism is what can help us to be more, is what can push us to achieve the life that we dream of.

I was reading this week a quote from Elder Ballard that said: “Brothers and Sisters may you have the courage to change what you need to change in your lives.” To work towards being better people we need to change. We came to this earth to constantly improve and demand more of ourselves. We just need to do that with more love. 

When we do that, we allow ourselves to keep going without a lot of guilt, criticism, discouragement, and fear. If we are kind to ourselves, we will be more accepting when we make mistakes, and we will be more willing to try even harder, different, new things. We won’t be there to beat our own selves up when we fall in the process.

Sometimes the only person to greet us when we make a mistake with a scornful pointed finger is only our own self.

I can say that working on managing perfectionism is a process. But I can say that this drive and push can become our ally. Can become that voice that reminds us where we need to go next. What we need to pursue and where we want to be.

I have been learning to be grateful for my perfectionism and my drive to be more. That discontent that has pushed me to pursue things that I feared and things that I never thought I could achieve on this lifetime. Things that I thought didn’t belong to me to try. Things that pushed me forward, and in the end made me more satisfied with who I was becoming.

So whether physically, spiritually, or mentally do we feel a desire to change, I hope we can find realistic goals and strive to achieve them. I am not talking about having unrealistic expectations, such as trying to look like my 16 year old me, or going faster than I have strength. Becoming an overnight success, or doing the full splits in a matter of 24 hours.

We need to remember this:  Good things take time and patience. 

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I can seriously achieve way more than I feel capable of, that is true.  I can push myself to do many things and change to become who I desire, that is true as well.

I know that as long as I accept myself in the process, and love myself even when I fail and forgive myself, I can keep trying and I can take that strive for excellence and use it to create things that are well done!



Photo courtesy Jenna Elizabeth Photography

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Serena Essuman


Serena Essuman

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