Perfectionism: The All or Nothing Dilemma

What is perfectionism? It is actually a personality trait in which a person strives for flawlessness in unobtainable or far-reaching goals, is self-critical and worries about how other people see them. This is not to be confused with doing your best, or actually doing a great job. We will focus on the type that is so debilitating that people stop before they even get started.

I am part of an online group that discusses bullet journaling and bullet journal topics. I will not give the name for obvious privacy reasons. There are many newcomers to this group, and the thing that I see repeatedly is people don’t know where to start, or, they’re afraid to start. Some people say they are afraid to make a mistake. Isn’t that what whiteout is for? I actually got a comment once on a Youtube video, saying that the person appreciated the fact I used whiteout in my Planner. It’s almost as if using whiteout is considered admitting to a mistake. I don’t know about that, but whiteout and I are best friends, especially when it comes to the planner world.

When I was a kid, I went through this period of having certain OCD habits. I don’t do this anymore — thankfully, the majority of those habits lasted for about two years. The first one, I had to braid my hair just so before bed. If it wasn’t perfect, I would re-do it, and sometimes spend hours at it. At one point, my Dad got so mad at me, I went to bed in tears because I couldn’t braid my hair the way I wanted to. Another thing was that I had to rub cuticle oil into my nails, and each nail bed had to be massaged ten times before moving onto the next. Please! Do not ask me why. To this day, I have no worthwhile explanation, only that I felt this overwhelming need at the time. To be fair, this was my own personal thing in which no one else was affected (other than my Dad). I wasn’t worried about criticism from anyone — I was a kid, and kids don’t normally think about stuff like that.

It isn’t until we get older, when we need to complete something that others are witness to is when we start to worry about how others view us. The best example I can think of is standing up to talk in front of the class in school. Of course, all eyes are on you. As a kid, that is absolutely terrifying, and it feels like everyone is judging you. Of course, we tell our kids not to worry about things like that, but kids are mean, and brutally honest. Of course they’re judging you. However, when you’re super nervous, it’s hard to be a perfectionist.

The most scary part of perfectionism is when we set goals for ourselves. We want to be the best, do the most and succeed at everything. So we set many, many, unobtainable goals — unrealistic, simply because there are just too many of them. We have all these awesome thoughts about what we want to accomplish that year, quarter or month, and then we don’t do anything. Now, since we have fallen short and failed already, we may as well give up on goals and not even bother. This is the defeatist attitude I am referring to. I see this often with people creating beautiful spreads in their planners or bullet journals and then not following through with filling them out. As soon as they realized it was wasted because it never got used, they give up and say, “that didn’t work for me”. To me, that is an excuse. If you want to be successful in your life, you need to hold yourself accountable for your actions.

There’s this thing that humans do — we compete. We compete for jobs, security, love, independence, and material things. We compare what we have to others and want to out-do them. So, we tackle insurmountable odds, only to be knocked down. When this happens, we either keep trying or we give up.

The problem is, the perfectionist won’t recognize when something is actually perfect. They will always strive to be better, or do better; there’s always greener pasture on the other side of the fence. If, for example, they set high achieving goals for themselves, and then smash those goals, they’ll make new ones and try to obtain those too. Well, sometimes, we need a break. There’s this thing called burnout. If we keep pushing ourselves to be the best at all times, eventually something has to give.

I think this ideal of perfectionism is what holds a lot of people back from their dreams. We, as a human species are so full of potential. People hold more potential than they even know. Most won’t apply themselves. Then there are those with this perfectionist attitude, which literally holds them back from even starting. They are actually afraid of failing to achieve this unobtainable high standard they set for themselves.

I have written about this before, in terms of an online presence. We are way harder on ourselves than others are on us. We project this notion that since we feel a certain way, others will too. We cannot read other peoples minds, so we perceive that they must feel the way we do. It’s the fear of the unknown — it is scary facing the unknown. We give it this nameless thing that prevents us from moving forward.

We all compare ourselves to other people — it’s just human nature. We need to somehow train ourselves to stop doing this. Why can’t we just be happy when we see someone else succeed? It should be seen as a positive example that we too, can achieve our dreams — that it is possible.

Personally, I like my work to be of good quality. But, I don’t consider myself a perfectionist. Sometimes things happen, and don’t turn out the way we expect. The best thing to do in any case, is simply to start. Try not to worry about what other people think. As we age, we tend to gain wisdom and patience, and act with more grace compared to the rashness of youth. Also, people are more worried about themselves than with you as an individual. Be proud of who you are and let that shine through any work you present to an audience. Try not to get caught up in your head about things being “just right”.

Things that might help someone with this perfectionist trait are:

  • Journaling about your thoughts and feelings
  • Therapy
  • Groups of other people who have similar thoughts
  • Therapy group sessions
  • Don’t imagine what people think: ask them — most of the time, the answer is not what you would expect!!

I hope this article helped you in some way. If so, be sure to leave a comment down below. Remember, try not to be too hard on yourself, take a deep breath and give yourself some time to stop, reflect and just relax!

SAN ❤️

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My name is Sandra, and I started my online presence as a content creator on Youtube. I have two channels now and also a Blog on my website at www.sandradahl.ca.

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Sandra Dahl

My name is Sandra, and I started my online presence as a content creator on Youtube. I have two channels now and also a Blog on my website at www.sandradahl.ca.