Last night I was lying in bed writing down article ideas for this blog when I realised something. Something I should have realised long ago.

I had my memo app open, with some of my problems that I had listed out such as “I always need to do more and better”, “I always try to live up to insane standards” and finally, “I always try to be perfect”. Looking at this list, I wondered if there was a name for what I was describing. A few Google searches later, I found an article about perfectionism. Sceptical at first, because I had never considered myself a perfectionist, I started reading. What I found left me quite perplexed. Could it be? That I had struggled with being a perfectionist for all these years and never realized?

You see, the idea I had in my head of perfectionism was quite different from what it actually is. I always associated being a perfectionist with work. Making your work perfect, obsessively trying to make every little detail perfect, making perfect art, doing perfect homework, this sort of things. But a quick Google search will show you that perfectionism is defined as “the refusal to accept any standard short of perfection.” Period. Not work related. Not art related. Not productivity related. Everything related. You expect yourself to be perfect, you expect others to be perfect (this was the biggest eye opener for me) and you think society expects you to be perfect. Because if you expect others to be perfect, it makes sense that you think they expect the same of you, right? At least it always made sense to me.

As I read more on perfectionism, I was both very surprised and very reassured that I related to it so much. Surprised, because how could I have missed this entirely for all my life, and how could it describe me so well?? Reassured, because it meant that finally, there wasn’t something wrong with me only. This “something” had a name, and other people had it too! I could finally understand where all these thoughts were coming from. Why I always pushed myself to excellence. Why I was always frustrated when my roommate wasn’t perfect. Why I always wondered “Am I doing this right/like everybody else?” about every little detail of my life (walking, moving, talking, laughing, breathing, you name it). I reckon those particular reflexions are probably worsened by anxiety, but that’s a problem for another time.

I believe this issue came from two places. First and more importantly, it came from school. From elementary to high school, I was top of my class, and that comes with a pressure. The pressure to always be the best. To always have the right answers and to never make mistakes, because otherwise other kids will have a grand time pointing fingers and making fun of you. At this time I was also in a friendly competition of sorts with my best friend, since she also had the best grades and we both wanted to be THE best (or at least I did). Looking back, this competition never stopped at high school for me. It continued on to college and it spread to every other aspect of my life. My parents often compared me to her, pointed out how she was better at this and better at that. So I always strived to be better so they would stop praising her and would start praising me instead. I’m not sure it ever really worked, but the effects are still present in my life to this day. In my head, it’s still a constant competition. And I’m never winning.

The second place where I think my perfection issues might have started is family. I’m the eldest of three children and as a result of that, I was always the one who had to show the way and be a role model. From a very young age, I had to do everything right, so that my siblings would do everything right. I’m not sure if this is a pressure I put on myself or that my parents put on me. Probably both. I think it’s a common problem amongst first-borns. I believe the double pressure of being a role model at home and a role model at school took quite a toll on me at a critical period of my life, which leads us to now.

Now, I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’ll have to do more research and find ways to lower my standards and my expectations, to undo everything that has been ingrained in my brain for the first 20 years of my life, because perfection doesn’t exist. I’m the proverbial donkey with a carrot and stick, running after something I can never reach. It’s draining, it makes me unhappy and it doesn’t spark joy, so it has to go. It’s gonna take time and it’s not gonna be easy, I’m not delusional. But now that I have identified this problem, I am determined to work on it and I will keep you updated on my progress.

Until next time,

Em