I’ve been a perfectionist for as long as I can remember—always caring about what other people think, worrying about being judged, and overanalyzing everything. As a kid, I never raised my hand in class even if I was 99% sure I knew the answer, constantly second-guessing myself. In my success-driven mind, every bad score on a test meant I’d never get accepted to my dream school and every missed goal in a game would prevent me from playing soccer in college. Crazy, right? My standards were so ridiculously high that I was never happy, and the sad truth is that I was the one who put all that unnecessary pressure on myself.
While, thankfully, my perfectionist tendencies have lessened with age, I still struggle with them. Even as I write, I constantly self-edit rather than let my stream of consciousness flow onto the page. But when I find I’m being too self-critical, I remember to ask myself: “What’s the worst that can happen? Will this typo kill me?”
I’ve learned that my best writing happens when I stop stressing about deadlines and overthinking the final product. The same principle applies in my personal life: My best relationships have always unfolded naturally—without strategizing or forcing things to happen. They’re about simply enjoying being together and not dwelling on the future, just letting go and accepting the process.
When Everyone Shines But You by Kelly Martin sheds light on perfectionism and shows how to embrace imperfections instead of trying to fix them. Refreshingly, Martin doesn’t tell us what we need to change about ourselves, but rather how we can learn to accept who we are, flaws and all. “The greatest gift you can give yourself is surrender—surrender to what is,” she writes.
This excerpt really resonated for me in terms of valuing myself without conditions and accepting that right now, in this moment, I am good enough:
By living life by condition, you are saying to yourself that you need to be perfect in order to be accepted by the world. If you were out of balance, lopsided, not completely perfect, then you would see yourself as not loveable or good enough.
Your outer world mirrors your inner world. How you view your outer world is how you view you, your inner world, the “you” that needs your care, your attention, your compassion and your love.
Day-by-day, moment-by-moment, as you spend time in deep presence with you, allowing yourself to feel anger, to feel rage, to feel envy, to feel sadness, to feel fear and panic…the way your outer world looks to you will change. Nothing physically may have changed, but you will no longer be affected by events nearly as much. Your outer and inner worlds are very much interlinked. If you want to see your outer world change, you need to find a way of making peace with your inner world.
Sometimes life will give you temporary sickness, ill health, broken bones, all ways to slow you down. It is all a mental sickness. Mentally, you will not take your vice-like grip off the steering wheel. You move through life as if you are on a marathon run to the finishing line, never stopping, always finding something new to keep you in that mode. But eventually you choose to stop, or your body steps in and stops you in your tracks. Sometimes ill-health comes to make you embody your body, to become more present than you ever were before.
Your constant need for things to be perfect not only causes you stress, but it can hold you back in life. You may have ideas, dreams for your life; you may have projects and things you could be doing right now in the moment, yet your refusal to even begin them happens because you feel you need to be more perfect, more capable, better at whatever it is before you can do it […]
What would it feel like to be ordinary? To embrace ordinariness? What if simply being you, and everyone else simply being who they are, is perfectly natural, perfectly ordinary, and in that ordinariness is the absolute perfection of the nature of this universe and reality?
Ordinary does not mean less than; ordinary does not mean your light does not shine. It simply means that you are content with who you are. You do not care for the labels of outstanding or brilliant. If you can be you, without needing to be someone special, and be not only okay with that, but feel good enough, this is real freedom. Your attachment to labels, attachment to perfection, and attachment to things being a certain way before you can be happy with your place in life, are gone.
The bottom line: Give up your desire for control. It’s okay to doubt yourself sometimes. It’s okay if you don’t always have the answer. No important decisions were made without a little doubt and self-criticism. So don’t be so hard on yourself!
Excerpted from the book When Everyone Shines But You: Saying Goodbye To ‘I’m Not Good Enough,’ Copyright © 2014 Kelly Martin. Reprinted by permission of the author.