I come from an immigrant family of high achievers. Education, sports and most activities were pursuits to excel at rather than doing for the sake of learning, exploring and enjoying.
If my brother and I came home with a 97% on an exam, my dad would say where are the other three points? I would feel so disappointed.
Even on trivial things like playing Scrabble or handball, I would keep track of the score like it really mattered. My friends would wonder why I was so competitive. You write about the idea of “good enough” rather than perfection. I can’t even imagine allowing myself that slack, although it would be a relief just to get something done and not be evaluating whether I did a perfect job at it and looking for others to applaud me.
My partner who is not so concerned about being “the best” tells me I am out of control and that I have an addiction to perfection. I think he is kind of right, yet I am embarrassed to say, I can’t seem to change.
It seems you are really seeing how caught you are in the achievement and approval syndrome. The deeper issue here is about self-value. As children, I don’t think we constantly doubted our value as people, until we heard that our worth was based on our accomplishments and good behavior.
Many of us also saw how caught up our parents and other role models were in pursuing success to feel valued and good about themselves. As children we were extremely dependent on parents and other elders accepting and valuing us. We needed their approval to feel seen, valued and loved. For some people this drive becomes a sort of obsession or even an addiction. They feel empty and worthless if they are not always striving for perfection, even on a written driver’s license test!
Take a look at what part of life you miss out on when you are so focused on being perfect?
How much of your time and focus are taken for you to be “perfect”? What does it feel like inside to be focused in that way? At times it might feel really good, as you have a purpose and are giving your best. After a while it becomes exhausting and starts to feel trivial because there is more to life than being “perfect,” which actually can never be achieved, anyway. In some ways, we always fall short. From a perfectionistic lens, we are constantly judging rather than being curious and appreciating what is going well.
I am more interested in wholeness, which is about accepting who we are in the moment. This is a kinder, more human and realistic way of being ourselves. We don’t need to push away what we don’t like about ourselves and we’re not always striving to be better. Ironically when we bring more acceptance and trust to ourselves, it naturally opens up the desire to be more creative, real and happy. From this state we actually contribute more to our lives.
People enjoy us because we are more relaxed, open and flexible. We are less of a threat and recognize that cooperation and collaboration are more fulfilling than being number one.
Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist of Indian descent in the Bay Area. 650-325-8393. Visit www.wholenesstherapy.com