As I’ve begun another round of working with clients in my Stellar Self-Care Coaching Program, I am so inspired.
These are intelligent, complex, high-achieving women — every single one.
But that’s not what inspires me about them. I’m inspired by their vulnerability. I’m inspired by their choice to reach out and say “I need some help here.”
They inspire me because I struggle with that, too.
Most of my clients would describe themselves as “perfectionists” and “recovering people-pleasers.”
Yep. Me, too.
And something I’ve noticed over the years is that, woven into the fabric of our Western culture, are particular ways of “supporting” each other that are just really not deeply helpful for perfectionists.
Here are some of them:
“You can do it — just try harder!” (The perfectionist is already trying way too hard. That’s part of the problem.)
“You’re strong enough to do this! Hang in there!” (The perfectionist has already carried strength to a Herculean level. The perfectionist needs permission to allow her feelings of “weakness” to exist.)
“You won’t succeed at anything unless you commit yourself 100%!” (Um … the perfectionist is practiced at over-committing. The perfectionist starts at 150%. This over-committing is why perfectionists sometimes “backslide” into procrastination — who wants to do it if doing it means over-committing yourself, every time?)
“Never give up until you make it!” (Tenacity is not an issue for the perfectionist. The perfectionist is like a little dog who just can’t let go of the chew toy, even though it’s in pieces. The perfectionist needs to learn to let go of things that are falling apart — and even things that still feel good but are no longer needed. The perfectionist needs to learn that some things are okay to give up on.)
“Strive for excellence!” (The perfectionist already functions through a belief that she must earn an A++++++ in everything. Excellence is not the issue for the perfectionist. Allowing herself — and her work — to be flawed but visible is the true journey of the perfectionist. This is why I loved the yoga teacher who told me it was best to approach yoga with “C+ effort” — she freed me up to be present to myself.)
The irony here is that, to people who are not yet aware of the toll their perfectionism is taking on them, everything I’ve written in this post will sound like blasphemy.
That’s because perfectionism is a belief system, and there are big payoffs, culturally, to having this belief system. It plays right into the idea that we don’t have limits if we just try hard enough.
There is a TV commercial running right now involving the relationship between a mother and daughter. In voiceover, the daughter says something along the lines of “My mother taught me that I could have it all. My mother never let me give up.”
Empowering? It depends on the lens through which you view “having it all” and “never giving up.” I know that when I try to “have it all”, my life feels so overstuffed I can barely breathe.
And I’ve found that everything I work toward in my life involves many moments where I “give up”. I give up what I think it has to look like. I give up my tight grip on it. I give up an old version of me so a more authentic version can show up. I give up because I just don’t want “it” anymore, not the way I did (because I’m not who I was when I set out on the journey).
If you have a tendency toward perfectionism, and you notice you have trouble giving up or letting go, start small. Where can you push a little less than you usually do? Where can you pause and reflect before responding or reacting? What activity can be crossed off the list — if only for today? Where would a well-placed “no” usher more peace into your day?
Don’t overwhelm yourself by thinking you need to “do this letting go thing right”! (Perfectionism can be oh so sneaky!) You don’t need to let go of anything big right now.
Practice with the little stuff. And see how it goes. Build those “letting go” muscles. Chances are, your “tenacity muscles” are already overworked.
I know the message to “practice giving up” may seem incongruent with the huge changes that are crying out to be made in our world at this moment. But as I’ve written here before, we cannot truly separate self-care from other-care.
The more I am able to fill my own cup, the more that cup overflows to others. It cannot be otherwise. When I try to “do it all” and insist on “never giving up” on anything, I’m spread so thin I am flat-out ineffective when it comes to the places where the world truly needs me.
If you struggle with perfectionism and people-pleasing, where do you need permission? Where might you practice letting go, or even giving up?
Speaking of perfectionism and self-care, I hope you’ll check out You Need to Read: A Wish Come Clear’s Video Interview Series. Caroline McGraw and her interviewees (including me!) delve deeply into these topics in her terrific series.