Are you too good for your own good? For women, our pursuit of perfectionist can lead to depression, anxiety, damage our eating habits and our relationships, according to research. Yet, it’s hard to shake that little voice in your head pushing you to be perfect—and condemning you if you aren’t.
As a journalist and author. for years I was plagued by my perfectionist mindset, until one day the universe sent me a message. I had just been made redundant from my job after the magazine I worked for closed. Despite vowing that I’d take a break to recuperate, I had thrown myself into the freelance world.
I was working longer hours than ever, as I feverishly pitched stories to multiple magazines in multiple countries. Perhaps I would have continued on that destructive career path, but help came from an unexpected source.
Late one night as I was scrolling through Facebook, I saw that a friend had commented on a post written by an American life coach, offering a self-help program called Perfectionist Rehab. The description resonated so deeply with me that I contacted Elli (the life coach) immediately, asking if I could do the program remotely.
Over the next six months I ‘met’ with Elli weekly—she sat in her office in Charleston while I Skyped from my coach. Around the same time, I was made redundant, my relationship ended. Needless to say, it was a time of intense change, transition and growth for me. Here’s what I learnt:
NAME YOUR INNER CRITIC
I was skeptical when Elli told me to create a character for the voice in my head who was constantly saying I wasn’t worthy. But I discovered that once I gave my inner critic a personality, she was far easier to reason with—or ignore completely. ‘You have to try harder,’ yelled Johanna yelled, a short, dark-haired woman who, for some reason, screams in an American accent. ‘I hear you Johanna,’ I replied calmly. ‘I know you’re trying to change me. But what if I’m already good enough?’
EMBRACE THE MIDDLE GROUND
‘To a perfectionist, every action is black and white, good or bad,’ said Elli. ‘But learning to explore the grey area is part of the journey.’ As part of my homework, she instructed me to set my alarm an hour later than usual. She also suggested that, after I woke up, I wait for at least 45 minutes before checking my emails. A lot of perfectionists cram the first hour of the day with activities because they never wake up feeling good enough, so need to achieve something as soon as possible, to feel validated.
THE WORLD WON’T END
This might all sound blissful but, for an A-type like me, it was incredibly tough to stick to. I was worried that if I let my standards slip, even a little, I’d become a directionless drifter. However as time went on, I realised the world didn’t end if I had to push back a deadline or skipped a gym session. By the time I checked out of perfectionist rehab I was less motivated, less ambitious and happier than ever. One of the greatest achievements of my life has been not having to be the greatest at everything anymore.