7 Lessons from a Recovering Perfectionist

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Many people make the mistake of confusing a high achiever with a perfectionist. I used to be a perfectionist, and I consider myself a high achiever now. I know this because of therapy (first and foremost). I know that my dedication and desires come from a deeper place connected to accomplishing essential goals and not connected to what others think of me.

Perfectionism is a substantial contributing factor to women of color’s inability to break the glass ceiling in many male-dominated professions, such as Tech. I watched how Perfectionism was stealing my joy for years. I never thought the work I was doing was good enough, and I kept pushing myself to the point of getting sick and in need of a therapist. I learned to slowly uncover all the ridiculous demands I was making of myself and my fear of failing at every level.  

So how do you know if you are a perfectionist?

Some of the signs of Perfectionism include the following:

  • You are incredibly self-conscious when making mistakes
  • You persist with a task beyond reason
  • You judge yourself and others harshly
  • You get highly competitive with others
  • You think “all or nothing.”
  • You set unrealistic expectations
  • You get depressed by unmet goals
  • You crave approval
  • You are incredibly defensive when criticized
  • Your self-worth is tied to your achievements

If the items I just listed above apply to you, know that you are not alone. I was there, and it has taken me years to create new habits to help me get beyond the voice in my head that is insatiable and never has enough. I’ve come to realize that I am more than just a sum of my accomplishments, and with a great deal of self-compassion and therapy, here are the lessons I wished someone shared with me ten years ago:

1. Focus on the Journey

I feel positively motivated by my goals and use mindfulness to enjoy the Journey. I learned this while doing my TEDx talk back in 2019. Looking back now, I can tell you that I made sure I savor the joy in selecting my topic, the joy of updating my draft, the love I received when reading it aloud to friends and family to solicit feedback. At every step, I was fully present and focusing on the human connections I was making. I listened to every person who came up after my talk to speak with me and gave them my undivided attention. I laughed a lot, I cried, I celebrated, and I accomplished a dream. In the end, the talk did happen, but my memories come from the moments before and the joy of learning something new while being uncomfortable and pushing forward. I never gave up, and when I made a mistake, it only fueled me to try harder and give my best.

2. Delegate and Let Go

I had many sleepless nights in the past because I wanted to do all the work myself. I wanted to create every PowerPoint, I tried to write every report, to study every survey, and it was just unsustainable. The truth is that it was all base on FEAR; fear of failure, fear of criticism, fear of disappointments.  I had to learn to delegate various tasks to my team and my managers and trust they will each do the best they can, not what I want. This one wasn’t easy, but with time and practice, it does become more manageable. I now know that I am helping others grow by delegating work and getting more joy when watching them succeed right in front of my eyes.

3. Know Your Worth

As a recovering perfectionist, I can comprehend the negative self-talk and self-neglect that happens, especially when things get tough. I learned that I was not always putting myself in high enough regard. My spiritual practice has taught me how to love myself and all of my flaws. I am not perfect (thank God), and I will never be. That is the whole point of being humans. We learn, we grow, we make mistakes, and we continue thru this cycle forever. It never ends. I used to compare myself to others instead of knowing that my uniqueness was to be celebrated and welcomed. I learned that it was MY JOB to teach others how to treat me. I learned not to sweat the small stuff, and instead focus on self-improvement while enjoying the ride. There is only one you, and that is your superpower!

4. Embrace Failure

Every single one of my failures has made me successful. I don’t mean to say this is easy, but I want to keep an open mind and give it a try. We are imperfect and will make mistakes along the way. I learned that my growth was coming from each of those failures, and they also needed to be celebrated. Today, I ask myself, “what is this here to teach me? And use it to reflect and then move forward. Nobody enjoys failing, I don’t, but I now allow it just to be and focus more on the lesson instead of beating myself up.

5. Start a Gratitude Practice

Counting your blessings instead of your burdens has a significant impact on your psychological health. I made gratitude a daily habit, and it is the first thing I do each morning. When I wake up, my first words are “thank you,” and I list three things I am grateful for right after. This can be as simple as being thankful for a good night’s sleep, or clean water, or the sun hitting your face.

6. Collect Evidence

One way to acknowledge my successes and strengths is to write them down. I celebrate all of my accomplishments. I’ve had the same word document for years, and in it, I jot down every achievement in my personal and professional career. It is a habit today, and I do it automatically, but initially, I had a reminder in my calendar every Friday to add my weekly wins. It felt silly at the beginning, but I used it for my yearly reviews when asking for a promotion and whenever impostor syndrome wants to pay a visit. Collect as much evidence as you can, and read it whenever you start to doubt yourself.

7. Self-Care Is Not Selfish

I learned that self-neglect is selfish, and I could never give what I didn’t already have. To me, these are non-negotiables: getting adequate sleep, staying hydrated, eating food that nourished me, and doing yoga, meditation, and journaling to relieve stress. Does it mean I do it every day? No, I have days when I can’t get to it, and that is ok. There is always another day to start all over again. I see every day as a new beginning with new decisions you can make to better your life.

Salvador Dali on Perfectionism

I have a deep passion for excellence that continues to drive me today, but I am no longer afraid of failure; it is a much more healthy pursuit. Listen, we are all a work in progress and not finished “things.” We are continually evolving, requiring us to make room for improvement and continue to be the best version of ourselves every day. Remember that Perfectionism tries to convince you that whatever you’re trying to do correctly at the moment is the most important thing. Focus on the bigger picture, and it will ease its grip on you, I promise!

With Love,

-5xminority

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