I was a neurotic perfectionist. To be honest, I’m still a perfectionist, just not as bad as I used to be.
It took ages for me to complete a task. I usually started by procrastinating. I always believed there’d be a perfect moment to do everything, so I waited until the time was right. Once I finally started, it would never be smooth progress.
I couldn’t help but check every tiny little mistake while working on school or work project, right from the beginning and not after completion. Sometimes I’d be stuck in the middle of the progress because it was hard for me to ignore the errors, even if they had no impact at all on the big picture. One small flaw meant imperfection, and imperfection to me was a failure.
That was one thing I absolutely hated with a passion.
I’d be so busy perfecting a task I would abandon my well-being, my mental and physical health, and my relationships. I’d beat myself up for everything I perceived as an imperfection and it usually led to self-loathing.
I’d forget to take a break, spend a copious amount of time looking for mistakes, and never know when to stop. Neglecting sleep was normal, which resulted in the deterioration of my health. I prioritized perfection in my works above all things, which made it hard to find time for family and friends.
In college, I hated putting up with other people’s imperfect works.
Working on group projects was one of the things I liked least about school, until one day, I was paired with a particular classmate to do a project.
This time I was stoked.
He was a dean’s lister, an honors student with excellent achievements every semester. His exceptional reputation made me eager to start on our project together. I was so sure he’d be a perfectionist like me, if not more so when it came to working on an important project or assessments.
Turned out, he was the opposite of what I thought.
He didn’t procrastinate like I did. Instead, he scheduled a timetable for both of us, so there’d be no time wasted. Once we started, there’d be no stopping until we got it done.
He ignored my interruptions every time I noticed small errors in our work and refused to halt the progress. But he promised to get back on those errors later. True to his words, we tweaked and did some improving after it was completed, but just once. And then he closed the lid on the project, much to my annoyance.
Usually, I’d recheck it many times, just to make sure everything was perfect.
Surprisingly, the feedback we received from our professor was positive. I never anticipated hearing that the project I hadn’t check a million times was ‘the best’ in the class.
I was utterly stunned. It was something I rarely heard from my teacher, no matter how hard I worked to make it perfect.
We were assigned to work together on a few more projects that semester, and slowly, I managed to restrain myself from being an overbearing perfectionist.
My focus changed; instead of getting caught up with little details, I learned to concentrate on the big picture. I procrastinated less and took more action while improving, rather than waiting for the perfect moment.
When he didn’t spot any mistake that I noticed, I didn’t mention it, knowing it’d be a waste of time to fix it. There were times when I blamed myself for some small faults, which actually didn’t affect the results at all.
But instead of criticizing me, he gave me credit for my huge contributions to our project and celebrated our small victories.
For the first time, I felt joy as I worked with him on the projects. There was less struggle and worry about the progress, less stress because there was less pressure to be perfect.
Before that, I never felt satisfied with everything and believed nothing was ever good enough.
Perfectionism had been taking over my life and it destroyed my self-esteem and confidence. Striving for flawlessness in everything was destructive to my mental health and general well-being.
When I finally realized this, I stopped beating myself up for every small mistake I made. I stopped feeling regret over things in the past. “All-or-nothing” had been my principle as a perfectionist, which usually resulted in “nothing-and-nothing.”
But after that, I’ve decided to disregard the mindset.
I confused perfection as doing my best. But now I’ve learned that in order to be the best, there’s no need for perfection. No one will ever achieve it.
After all, perfection never exists. It’s all in my head.