Dr. Evelyn Bilias Lolis
Perfectionism is a tyrant. Very much like a child’s slime toy, once it lands, it will spread, seep, and stick to every crevice of your living area, clothes, and general belongings. There is no belonging too small or too large to be occupied by slime. And we all know that once it’s there, it is so darn stubborn to remove.
Ask any parent how effortlessly a slime mixture can settle and how daunting it is to try to scrape out crusty little slime remnants that cling for dear life on anything and everything. Walls, floors, clothes, shoes, books, you name it, have all fallen to slime. In my eyes, this is a little bit of how perfectionism works.
At first sight, slime is pretty and perhaps even soothing. Glittery. Scented. Fluffy. So appealing to stare at and touch. It provides a play field that entertains and focuses even the most restless. It doesn’t take long, however, for the discerning eye to recognize that this is an illusion; that this is a façade and nothing but a complete nuisance and disaster masked as “pretty” and “soothing”. Even worse it is something that will take you far longer to undo once you entertain it.
Society constantly tries to persuade us that perfectionism is desirable. Then, based on our personality, genetic, makeup, and life circumstances, we create an idealistic concoction. We cling to the belief that our concocted idea of “perfect” is what will make us attractive, appealing, and worthy of the attention of another. We strive for perfection because it is what we think others possess for themselves or what others desire from us. Either way, the locus of control is placed externally and personal power is then given permission to rest outside of us. As a result, we wind up chasing idle ideals, unrealistic timelines/deadlines, as well as setting unkind standards for ourselves as well as for those around us. Recall, perfectionism seeps, like slime. It will never solely impact you alone; it will ooze and seep into your relationships with your children, your colleagues, and all aspects of life.
Why do we fall victim to this over and over again knowing the outcome? Why do we continue to insist on it and play with it? Does it make us better? Up our game? Increase our productivity? Nope. It stifles us. It stifles our relationship with ourselves by making us our own worst enemy. It stifles our relationships with others because our perfectionism, cognizant of it or not, holds others hostage as well. It stifles our productivity because it distracts us from good energy that we can put forward into our work, parenting, and relationships instead of wrestling with ideas about how we are not good enough and what others will view and respond to our shortcomings.
What is my answer? Simple. We are human. We are not machines. We are not immortals. We are human. And that, by default, makes us imperfect.
Perfectionism wants to make us feel as if we are inherently less than and that we are capable of less. It undercuts our intrinsic value, gifts, and talents by deluding us into believing that they pale in comparison to our weaknesses. This is nothing short of tragic. This mindset does one thing: it takes away from what our pure, authentic self has to offer to the world and to others.
This is heavy, I know. How do we lighten it and make a dent? How do we take a stand against falling victim to a perfectionistic mindset? Here are few simple tips to start:
1. Recognize it. Learn to recognize when what is motivating you is not about the end product but rather on what others will think and say about the end product. If your thoughts are heavy on the reaction of “others” then you are being tempted to play with slime.
2. Sit with it. Take time in that moment or at the end of the day to really sit with your ideals and reflect on how the perfectionistic mindset may be controlling the real you. Remember, perfectionism is a tyrant. It will hold you back and isolate you from your true, powerful self.
3. Reframe it. In the simplest terms, learn to talk it and gently redirect it, like you would a small child. Your perfectionistic self is your lesser mature self anyway. It does not reside in the confident capable person you are—it lives child inside you who doubts. Show that child some TLC and relieve him/her/they of that unnecessary pressure.
4. Grow from It. Undoing a perfectionistic mindset is the equivalent of scraping off old, dry slime from a wall or a floor. It is not easy. It is not a quick undoing. It is a patient and at times cumbersome process. But if we do it right, we will likely grow from that experience and be more selective in the future in how and where we choose to entertain it and for how long.
We deserve to let our real selves breathe. There is beauty in the imperfect because it is laced in humanism and that is the thread that binds us all—not some zany ideals. Most importantly, our youngsters desperately need adults who can model how to embrace imperfections, own them, love on them, and grow in a genuine, more self-aligned way. The fall season offers a perfect reset. Start today.