Mental Health

Letting Go Of Perfectionism

Hello my lovely readers. I am sorry for the long absence. Studying an MSc in Mindfulness has kept me busy with essay writing, daily meditation practice and journaling. Spending the best part of a number of weeks slowly piecing together an essay for the first time in over a decade, I thought, “Look how far I’ve come”. I wasn’t referring to my masterpiece of an essay rather than the lack of it being a masterpiece. Whether good or bad, over the past ten years I have finally let go of my perfectionism.

Over ten years ago, I was an obsessive type of academic. In fact, I realised the ridiculousness of my aim for perfection when clearing boxes from my parents’ house a few years ago. Inside the box, I found draft upon draft of my final dissertation from my undergraduate degree. And by draft upon draft, I mean over ONE HUNDRED drafts (poor trees!). It was perfectionism gone mad.

During the year that I wrote my final thesis, I had felt extremely ill. I would wake up at 6.30am, be at the computer by 7am and only stop for lunch and dinner, working all the way through until midnight. I’d dream of the essay, knowing the exact page that each paragraph was on and even dreamt of editing it. My life had become the essay.

When the results came back some months later, I’d achieved a first class, enough to pull my overall grade into a first class too. I went to graduation and posed for the camera as I held my diploma and the £50 award for my dissertation. When I got home, I put the certificate into the drawer and never looked at it again.

It is rather sad that a year of life was spent dedicated to a topic that I never engaged with afterwards. Even sadder was that I never spent any time being proud of my achievement. Perfectionism can sometimes be like an addiction. You achieve something, but instead of appreciating it, you seek the next thing to become ‘perfect’ at.

Fast forward over ten years later to my MSc and I submitted a mere version five of my essay, having written over half of it on my phone whilst sitting on a plane on a business trip from London to New York. Sure I put effort into it and stressed over it a bit, but when having to choose between sleep or continuing to write, I exclusively chose to sleep. I planned plenty of pockets of time over a few weeks to write the essay bit by bit. Whilst I don’t feel the ‘top marks’ vibe in my bone (an odd and rather accurate feeling I used to get when I just knew a piece of work would achieve a high score), I know I have done enough and that is all that matters. If it is the choice between health and a grade, I will pick my health.

Nowadays, when I think of perfectionism, my relationship to it has definitely changed. I use the following as some of my mantras when I feel the edge of unhealthy perfectionism start to creep in:

1) Try the best you can, without making yourself really stressed or ill

2) Take time to celebrate your triumphs

3) Don’t spend your life trying to be perfect, whilst forgetting to live

A short thought of the day, but for those of you with perfectionist tendencies, please look after yourself. It can be a hard and gruelling life being a perfectionist and sometimes it’s important to put yourself, rather than your perfectionism, first.

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