Looking back, the earliest account of my nearly paralysing perfectionism pace to my lower primary school days.As far as I can remember, I always owned a note book. Far from the usual ones in stores, mine was of an exercise book from my previous class that had not filled up from the subjects course work.
Every now and then I would open it and put down my thoughts, mostly girly stuff not to mention naive reflections of a village-bred nine year old.
I would give vent to my thoughts, which would flow through the pen onto paper and if I made a single mistake-of a misspelled word or jagged letter I would refuse to cross it out.
Instead I would tear out the entire page and start all over again regardless of whether I was in the last sentence or word.
Eventually the habit found its way to the classroom, affecting my class work performance often getting me in trouble for not presenting my work on time. Why? Because if the page did not look perfect to me, I would never hand it in.
While this obsession with perfection has been overly exhausting there was a justified reason to why I clung to it even in my young adult life. Any flaw in my work signalled a voice in my head, “You will never get ahead if you keep making mistakes” an undue influence in my mind that inevitably came with immense pressure.
Of course there is no class work in your 20s so perfectionism manifested itself in other ways. Like avoiding work assignments because I was afraid I won’t get it ‘just right’. Walking out of relationships because well it just doesn’t feel right. It was no way to live.
People like to idealize perfectionism. Think about all the different things we are told we must perfect. We must find as perfect spouse, bring up perfect babies, maintain the perfect body shape, speak impeccably perfect English…the list is endless. But, pray, how can you find perfectionism in an imperfect world?
They convey it as an endearing quirk but here’s the thing: Striving for excellence and setting unrealistic expectations for yourself are very different things. The former is actually ambition while the latter is a crippling condition.
Fact is most perfectionists do not even realize they are one. They are convinced that their fixation just means that they are more determined or hard working. The irony is that perfectionism may be precisely what’s holding them back from success.
The first step to overcome perfectionism is to recognise it as a problem. There is nothing wrong with setting high standards but when this standards are unrealistic they could get in the way of enjoyment of life. Furthermore, life itself is an everlasting learning process and we are all a work in progress.
By replacing self critical thoughts with more realistic and helpful thoughts we could well be on the way to seeking long lasting resolve.
Life’s successes can only come in addition to what we gain from trying and its okay to surrender to the moment, accept that we cannot control everything and embrace the uncomfortable state of uncertainty–that’s when we’re able to flourish.
I wish I could tell my 9 year old self what I know now, which is this: A crossed out word or a jagged letter isn’t going to hinder you from success.
This article was published on April 21 2015 on People Daily Kenya http://bit.ly/1GcwNcj