When the perfectionist in you won’t back down

When the perfectionist in you won’t back down

We’ve all got her. That inner beautiful perfect being. The one that writes neatly in between the lines. The one that gets up at 5am every day, meditates, walks, makes breakfast and calls her Mum all before 8am. The one that smiles politely when her boss asks her to take on a new project she knows nothing about and it needs to be turned around by the end of the week. The one that says yes of course she’ll dog-sit for her friends for 3 weeks, even though her partner is allergic and she’d really rather not have dog smell on her brand new rug. The one that only ever gets the results, even if it means pulling all-nighters and missing her best friend’s birthday party because she’s “too busy”. The one that when she’s done a beautiful, intelligent, impeccable piece of work, still finds fault – they’re just saying that, it can’t possibly be true, maybe I should have done that different, what if I’d finished it three days earlier…

The list goes on. She shows her face in minor and major ways. Every day. She has both raging beauty and disastrous dark intent. If she can bring us both joy and suffering, how do we learn to love her in her entirety? More so than that, how do we learn when to embrace her and when to let her go?

Flashback: It’s about 9:30pm on a weeknight (I’m usually in bed by 8:30pm) and I’m crying and trying to reason with my Mum who is essentially telling me there’s no way around this darling, you’re just going to have to do it. I’ve left a school assignment to the last minute, again. Not that I haven’t been thinking about it for weeks. It’s just that I got caught up on the research bit for too long. I went down a rabbit hole and wanting to know everything there was to possibly know before pulling together a coherent, super intelligent essay. I wanted it to look good. I wanted it to feel just right. So I needed to gather more. Until the weeks had passed and here I was (again) crying about how it was all so impossible and there was no way I was going to get it all done.

I spent years essentially running this same strategy or pattern of behaviour in many areas of my life. Although to the naked eye it may not have been so visible. It showed up in subtle ways – like always choosing to take on too much.

It’s my Honours year in university. I’m working three part-time jobs and volunteering for a charity. We’ve decided to run the biggest and best Ball in the history of our group. And I want to be involved in everything. And it must be perfect.

I’m in my first ‘career’ job and doing great. I’ve been promoted, moved around a few teams and feeling competent. So I decide to enrol in Masters part-time, while working full-time. Seems easy enough. I’m genuinely interested in the subjects and can’t wait to take my life to the next level. Only thing is that my team is short-staffed and I’ve just been handed one of the biggest projects of my life.

I could keep going but I think you get the idea. And I know you have your own stories. Why is it we choose (because I do believe it’s a choice) to put ourselves under these levels of stress and strain?

I believe we all have a set of standards, or rules, by which we live our lives. A lot of the time we constructed them way before we can remember right now and they’ve been running in the background. Checking in with them and bringing them back to the surface can be a powerful way to evaluate what’s still working for you and what’s holding you back. Think of them as your own set of performance benchmarks or expectations that you have set for yourself (and others).

Ask yourself a few questions to dig below the surface?

  • What standards have you set yourself in each area of your life? (E.g. If you had a ‘standard’ around social catch ups what would it be? One of mine is that I’m always on time).
  • What are your rules around meeting those standards? (E.g. Mine used to be that if someone else ran late, they didn’t feel the catch up was important).
  • What are the unwritten rules? (Before digging, I didn’t realise I had set an expectation on others for showing up on time!).
  • How do know once you’ve met them? And how do you know when you haven’t? What are the consequences?
  • Now, consider which of these standards are still working for you? i.e. Which ones are getting you closer to feeling like you’re living a full life – joyful, connected, happy, in line with your vision of what you want to create in your life.
  • And which ones need a little reshaping?

You see, the coolest thing I’ve learnt so far in my journey is that we really can change whatever is not working for us in our life. First we have to be aware of what is under the surface, which is why bringing your own personal standards into focus is super valuable in unblocking what is and isn’t working for you right now. Starting to construct new standards will reshape your relationship with your inner perfectionist – meaning she knows when to come out and serve you, rather than work against you. It’s you handing over the guidebook, the instructions manual, the rule book. And with this in hand, she’ll become a treasured tool in your toolbox. Available and on the ready as and when you choose to use it.


Know someone under lots of pressure and stress right now? Maybe their inner perfectionist has taken over a little. Give them back some control and share this post with them!