Perfectionism is not all it’s cracked up to be

Health, beauty, woman, mirror, aging

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything,
That’s how the light gets in.
~Leonard Cohen

By Mindy Gorman-Plutzer

What is perfect, anyway? You can define perfectionism as the pursuit of flawlessness. My experience tells me something different — it is the pursuit of failure. Perhaps that seems like an oxymoron, but if your goal is to achieve perfection at all times and with all things, you are doomed to fail. I know this to be true because for years I was in search of perfection — in my relationships, my career, my pursuit of athletics and, of course, the number on the scale and my perception of my body. I wore my perfectionism like a badge of honor; in time the weight of this badge became unbearable.

headshot torsoI share this with you because my own experience mirrors that of so many of the clients I have been privileged to work with during the past 17 years. My clients, intelligent, multi-talented men and women, are often berating themselves for the slightest mistake. “I wasn’t perfect.” “It wasn’t the perfect meal.”  In turn, our confidence, self-esteem and identities are stifled, leading to a defeated attitude. We come to believe that we are broken. We don’t allow ourselves to live to our full potential until we are “fixed.”

What I am hearing is the belief that being imperfect is the same as being inadequate. We need to let go of the limiting beliefs about perfectionism that we were clearly taught as we were growing up. Many of us were raised in families where we learned that performing, pleasing and being perfect increased our “lovability.” That is a powerful message for a child because the interpretation becomes, “If I am not perfect, I am unlovable.” This message is often carried into adulthood and often fuels addictive and obsessive behaviors. We spend enormous amounts of energy trying to starve it, drown it, feed it and escape it. These behaviors and thoughts are not problems to be fixed, they are the symptoms that need to be heard.

If, on the other hand, we can embrace imperfection, we are able to navigate this perfection-crazed and “hungry” society, which spends millions, if not billions, of dollars preying on our need to belong and fit into a pre-determined mold of thinness, muscularity and beauty. The message is that we are more likeable, will achieve greater success, if we have the perfect body, perfect skin, perfect smile..

There needs to be a distinction between perfectionism and the healthy pursuit of excellence. Someone who is striving for perfection is often motivated by a fear of not measuring up to some external or self-imposed expectation. On the other hand, someone who strives for excellence is motivated by the desire to learn, to grow, to do better.

We are all works in progress. Let go of the pursuit of perfection, it doesn’t exist. You are not broken, you are whole even as you journey through the challenges that life may present you with. Find the space to make room for acceptance, curiosity and unconditional love. In that space the magic happens and you experience AMAZING.

Here are my suggestions to start living a perfectly imperfect life:

  • Let go of the attachment to your story if it no longer serves you well. Honor it, know it got you to where you are today and know it need not define you. Don’t waste today stuck in a past that has no future.
  • Accept the messages from the past, find compassion and forgiveness if necessary. Everything that happened before brought you to today, and today you have another chance to re-frame those messages and re-write your story.
  • Stop the negative self-talk. Would you say those things to a friend? Put all that negative energy into a container, give it a name and send it on its way.
  • Start each day in gratitude; write down five things you have to be grateful for.
  • Set the intention to live each day fully present.

In addition to being a board-certified health coach and nutritional consultant, Mindy Gorman-Plutzer is a Certified Eating Psychology Coach in Manhattan.  She is the author of “The Freedom Promise: 7 Steps To Stop Fearing What Food Will Do TO You” and “Start Embracing What It Can Do FOR You” (Balboa Press). For more information, go to www.thefreedompromise.com.

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