Where Perfectionism Ends and Life Begins

If you’re a perfectionist like me, you have an overactive shame button inside of you that, once triggered, sets off this nasty blaring judgey voice that berates you about all the things you should be and should be doing that you are constantly failing at miserably. Like not even getting close. Seriously, self…you suck. Look at all the people around you that have their sh*% together. What is wrong with you?

In the past, I’ve tried to drown that voice with some distraction (tv, or internet, or junk food, or _______) just to shut that bugger up. It works…sort of. Until the food is gone or the tv is off and it’s just me and my brain again.

This accusing voice keeps going until finally, I have no strength left, and I simply agree. It’s true: I fail so much; I am never enough. Tomorrow, I will eat super healthy, work out, be nice to everyone, kill it at work, start to lose my expat weight, and finally be good enough that people will look at me and approve. And maybe, just maybe, I will approve too.

There are lots of things that trigger my shame button. Like saying “no” to an outing with good friends because my introvert gas tank is dangerously close to empty, and I know that I will crash and cocoon in my apartment for a couple days if I go.

Like requesting a “venting window” of twenty minutes when a loved one is struggling, so I don’t end up sitting and absorbing complaints and pain for two hours, as my own power and energy slowly drain out of me, leaving me to crash and burn the rest of the day.

Like thinking about all the bajillion and one things I could be doing better in the classroom, but I’m not. (Thanks, master’s program, internet, and incredible colleagues. Heh.)

For most of my life, I’ve tried to live perfectly—tried to tiptoe around that shame button. But, here’s the thing: there’s no such thing as living up to the impossible standards I have for myself. I cannot live perfectly. I am not perfect. I set that button off every day of my life.

On October 1st of this year, I decided to try something radical. I decided that each day, no matter what happened that day, it would be enough—I would be enough.

That verdict would remain the same on the days I feel awesome—like I can freakin’ change the world—and would also apply on the days where I barely slogged through, complained, didn’t work out, ate pizza AND ice cream, watched way too much reality TV, and could claim “surviving” as my only accomplishment. At the end of every day, I committed to hearing the shaming voice if it was there, acknowledging having those thoughts, then letting them go and deciding, despite everything, that exactly what I did and who I was today is enough.

To be honest, I don’t always believe it, but I have committed to continue saying it until I do. I’ve started to reframe things that used to trigger my shame button: things I used to consider selfish in the past, I am often now reframing as self-care.

I’m giving myself permission to do the things that help me thrive, not just survive.

That means learning how to take care of myself, so that I can give my best self to the people in my life. Here are some things I now know to be true:

  • I know that exercise is paramount to my stress management and emotional stability.
  • I know that food can make me feel amazing or totally horrible, depending on my choices.
  • I know that spending time with others is incredible and important, but that my time alone and in nature is when I refuel.
  • I know that I have to make time to read and write for myself (not for class) in order to stay inspired.
  • I know that happiness will ebb and flow, and life will have its ups and downs, and now I’m starting to (finally) figure out how to feel grounded, grateful, and present throughout it all.

For me, it began with turning the love and compassion I have for others toward myself: realizing the choices I make aren’t selfish, but self-care; accepting myself exactly where I’m at, knowing I will continue to strive for better, and allowing today to be enough; and finally, finding solace in the fact that it’s all a journey, and we are simply practicing.

Perfection not required.

What do you give yourself permission to do in order to thrive?


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