In the last 5 years of YKAL, I’ve received many emails from women asking me questions…the proverbial “what is wrong with me??” (short answer- nothing.) But, they just want to stop feeling like they're feeling and start feeling better, happier, and more comfortable. We all want that, right? Here’s an email I got from one of my readers awhile back:
“I just feel mostly like I am uncomfortable in my skin, not so much a weight thing- but that I'll never live up to my expectations. The fear is that if I allow myself to do what I think is “fall short,” in my MIND it's a slippery slope to mediocrity – a road that does not interest me. But because of this, everything I do has to be at the maximum: maximum work load, maximum relaxation, etc; there is no in-between. I'm not able to find inner peace in balance because I either feel like a slacker or my expectations are simply too high (yes, I struggle with perfectionism). With all of this, I'm not even sure where to begin.”
There’s a few things I see happening here. First up: dichotomous thinking, aka, black or white thinking. Either you live up to these expectations or you are mediocre. Either you’re amazing at everything you do, or you’re a total failure. No in-between. I think the reason this happens is because we like to label things good or bad. We like to “make them so”. The middle grey area is HARD to be in. It’s the I’m-doing-the-best-I-can-and-I-still-mess-it-up-and-can’t-do-everything-perfectly-and-I’m-okay-with-that space. It might sound okay to read it, but to actually be in that place is hard for many women. So instead of practicing being there, they try as hard as they possibly can, going to the ends of the earth to be everything and perfect and do All The Things, and when they can’t, they claim failure, mediocrity, loserville.
What you need to get comfortable with is knowing is there is excellence– which is all fine and dandy and actually good for us, and there is perfectionism–which feels like being served a shit sandwich at your favorite restaurant. They are two different things. Where does the line from excellence to perfectionism get blurry for you?
It’s helpful for you to spend some time thinking about that and getting really honest with yourself. Only you know when you fall over into that territory. (And can we all agree that no one likes a shit sandwich. Ever.)
What might be helpful is to think about perfectionism and know if you’re in it by asking yourself this very important question that I’ve actually learned from Dr. Brené Brown: Striving for excellence is inwardly focused, in other words, you’re doing it to make yourself feel good and to honor your values. Perfectionism is outwardly focused and looks like: “What will they think?” Perfectionism is all about creating a persona of yourself that meets the standards of what you’ve made up other people want of you (or what organizations want of you, or your culture wants of you).
In other words that are way less profesh:
[Tweet “Perfectionism is the asshole that makes us feel like we need the approval of everyone else.”]
I also sense that the woman that asked this question is uncomfortable in her own skin because she isn’t living authentically. What I mean by that is when your thinking is this way, you’re letting your inner-critic call the shots and run the show. Your inner-critic is creating these standards of excellence for you which you will never be able to attain, so you will ALWAYS fall short, and ALWAYS feel uncomfortable and like shit.
The truth is, if you don’t know your values and have a realistic view of what they look like in everyday life (because it’s easy to say you have a value around say- spirituality, but are you VERY clear what that means for YOU on a practical, daily basis?) then you don’t have a North Star leading you. In other words, you won’t really know what’s important about who you are and how you live your life. If I just totally freaked you out A) that’s not my intention and B) here’s a clue: if you’re the least bit interested in personal development then you can bet your bottom dollar that courage is one of your values. Because without courage, you can’t honor any other value, or live authentically.
And it’s a real bitch to try to live your life from a place of courage if your inner-critic is sitting in the driver’s seat of your life, while perfectionism is in the passenger seat. Those two are driving along, in charge of the radio, singing Taylor Swift songs while you’re in the back seat going “what the fuck?!?! ” What that looks like in real-life instead of a weird metaphor is that you feel like crap a lot, try harder and harder to be better, get more done, look amazing, and avoid criticism and judgement. All in the name of “excellence” but what it really is is perfectionism.
And the reason I know all this is because I used to LIVE there. And sometimes things get crazy and I fall backwards into that rabbit hole and have to climb back out. This happens to most women, if not all of us, so the good news is: you’re in GREAT company and there is another way.