Perfectioinism

Perfectionism is in my DNA from my culture and family. I use to think positively about it because it motivated me to keep learning more and doing better. I also observed its negative impacts such as costly time and energy in betterment, feeling not good or satisfied enough, misplacing priorities, fear of failure and setbacks, etc. Ironically, failing forward is key to success in life and failure is just the name we give to a lesson.

I don’t look at perfectionism just as my personal weakness, because it is deeply rooted in the social norm for achievements and competition in China where I grew up. Like many others, I strived to fit into that and hoped to be on the top. While the standards keep changing and bars keep raising higher, perfectionism perpetuates itself in this never-ending process. Fundamentally, it is driven by external approval and recognition rather than internal calling for meaning, therefore, it is not true yearning for excellence as I thought earlier.

Recently, I have experienced incidents with my housemates in household cleaning and recycling. Before I moved in, there was minimum routine in this area, so I established a bi-weekly cleaning party and outlined a cleaning and recycling list. As expected, my housemates couldn’t reach my standards, so I had to re-perform their work and remind them to recycle and reuse things repeatedly. It was exhausting and caused me disappointment, pain, stress, and tension with my housemates. After having open conversations with them, I realized that my standards served my needs, not theirs and perfectionism was the driver behind that.

The relationship described by Brene Brown between perfectionism and shame is intriguing. I would never connect the two but if perfectionism is there to meet external expectations, then not meeting them would be a very shameful experience, especially when it is a socially accepted norm.

White supremacy does not apply to me as Asian, but supremacy does. I carry it sometimes like in the above example, and it prevents me from unlearning my old patterns because it would bring discomfort and inefficiency to my life. Ultimately, it prevents my personal growth and inhibits my full experience of being human. Decolonizing our minds also can’t be done with perfectionism, because it enslaves us in the old patterns of being and doing, then forces them into others and eventually, colonize everyone.

After dismantling the above facts and experiences about my perfectionism, and reading so many inspirational pieces in this class, I realized that I have the personal power to revise that. One approach is my meditation practice — it helps me be more aware of perfectionism before I go further, identify my values not been met from perfectionism, and find a different avenue to meet them. Perfectionism still shows up in my life here and there but not on the extreme side of the continuum because I learned to accept it, keep working on it with awareness, and take proactive actions to deal with it.

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