Perfectionism elegantly—and oh so subtly—destroys lives.
It’s legit more devious than the serpent in the garden of Eden, Wile E. Coyote of Road Runner fame, or Ric Flair’s ridiculous attempts to overtake the Undertaker.
The truth is (and stick around and let me build my case): perfectionism will decimate your life–especially your relationships. The good news is that self-care will help you rebuild it.
But…self-care is such an overused buzzword. Somewhere along the way it has translated into: massages, detoxing with special Hollywood soup, meditating a la Headspace (which I do legit recommend), or worse of all, embracing some bullshit cliche that you can find cross-stitched somewhere on Etsy.
And dudes, I know that I’m giving lady examples, but I see you. I know you probably dismiss self-care as something necessary for other people, but not you. And maybe you think, “well, self-care would be gaming, but that’s so freaking lame” and “I mean, I’d dig jamming with some friends, but what’s the point if we’re not going to really take it seriously,” or worse of all, “I mean, I go to the gym, but I don’t know if it’s really self-care, I’m just trying to rock that Brad Pitt in Fight Club body, you know?”
And believe me. I know. I wince on the regular when I gotta bring up self-care with clients, because so often, they have their “ideal” of what self-care ought to look like. And more often than not, their version of self-care sounds way more like one of perfectionism’s masquerades.
Unfortunately, when we buy into perfectionism’s bullshit that there’s a perfect way to live, we start to feel the pressure of our clear imperfections and limitations everywhere we turn. Perfectionism loves to tell us that we’re totally going to lose our edge if we ever really slow down. And that self-care is only okay when we do it right, ideally putting our all into it, because of course we have to take breaks, but by God, we better do resting correctly, or we are most definitely going to lose our edge.
When we live this way, I’m sure you know how freaking exhausted we become. We become overwhelmed with all the things we must be doing wrong when we’re just trying to relax, but even that seems to hold a whole host of things we ought and should be doing.
And at some point, we start to lose the edge we used to have. It seems evident: taking care of yourself will lead to you doing a shittier and shittier job at life. So the obvious conclusion is don’t worry so much about self-care, instead focus on being the balls to the wall young professional you are and kick ass and take names. You aren’t going to bother slowing down, because slowing down only derails you.
Perhaps for you, it plays out in your life like this: you wake up early, fully intent on taking excellent, amazing good care of yourself. You have a strict schedule set up. You just finished reading The Miracle Morning (please don’t go google that, you don’t need a miracle in the morning right now, trust me) and you have this whole plan of how you’re going to do every single goddamn thing that every single goddamn successful person does in the morning. The more the better, right? (Except, of course when you’re embracing minimalism and you attempt to make your apartment look like IKEA and Marie Kondo had a decor baby).
Then halfway through the meditation piece you’ve started to doze on the sofa. “UGH, what is wrong with you?” your internal monologue starts, and while I love to swear, even I would be taken aback by the nasty tirade that continues.
You begin the journaling section, aiming to get back on track and all you can think of is how much you are fucking this up and how terrible you are at self care. You notice your last line is, “self care is stupid. I hate it.” Oh well, there’s always tomorrow…God. Already it sounds fucking miserable. You start to mentally check over your calendar, ah, work, that you know how to do. That you know how to show up and succeed at. That you know how to master.
And honestly, at the time of your ridiculous decision to try out this self care thing, it seemed like the cure all to your perfectionism. I mean, you’ve watched Brene Brown’s Netflix special, you know shame is at the root of perfectionism. And you know that you don’t want to be filled with shame. You want to be filled with success! You believed the brilliant brains of the internet that tell you what is wrong with you is perfectionism, shame, and your overachieving ways. And if only you could fix what is wrong with you, then you could get back on track to be the kickass ambitious soul you know you are at your core.
Unfortunately, all this does is reconfirm your belief that embracing self love is the antithesis to success. You look at the lists of things you ought to be doing for self-care on the internet and imagine how much more you could accomplish in the time it takes to get a 60 minute massage (which like therapy, never seems to be an actual 60 minutes, but more like 45 or 50).
Eventually, you wind up in a place where your version of self-care is “work more,” because it doesn’t seem like that normal self care activities actually seem to work for you. What’s more, they actually seem to dull your edge. The truth is most of the self-care advice can be complete and total bullshit when it is applied out of context. Just because it hasn’t worked for you in the past, doesn’t mean with a few small tweaks, it won’t sharpen your killer instinct.
Because dude, I get that perfectionism seems like it’s on your side and is in fact why you’ve been as successful as you have been thus far. However, that’s perfectionism taking credit for your hard work. In fact, perfectionism has been cramping your ability to perform at a high level. When you allow yourself to loosen up and take better care of yourself, you might even find that you actually have sharpened your ability to kick major ass.
Keep reading to learn how to loosen up without losing your edge today.
perfectionism sucks the life out of you way more than any vampire (in the movies or Transylvania)
Look. You and I already agree that perfectionism sucks. And you know the suckage super intimately.
When perfectionism is in charge, nothing is ever enough. It doesn’t matter how good you do at work, how caring you are in your relationships, how wise a friend you are, nothing is ever, ever enough. When you don’t figure out how to take good care of yourself, you run the risk of living a life that is full of empty relationships and meaningless accolades that you’re not sure you ever deserved in the first place.
At the very least, you find yourself wishing you knew what exactly it is that you’re working so hard to achieve. Your ambition and anxiety are so intertwined, that it’s hard for you to distinguish what it is you’re running from and what it is you’re running too. You do the endless google search, read the Reddit forums, and while some people have some helpful advice, you just find yourself thinking that it seems like one more item for your endless To Do list.
Trying to go it alone is extremely dangerous. Because perfectionism is the champion spin artist.
When you don’t have someone to call you out on unconsciously co-opting self-care techniques to get further trapped in perfectionism’s clutches, you just find yourself more miserable…and more busy. I mean seriously, who has time to go to the gym in the morning? We are not living in American Psycho (though his business cards do seem legitimately rad to me, but then I have an unhealthy obsession with stationary).
When you don’t know what self-care really feels like beyond the activities that can facilitate it, you aren’t going to get anywhere.
self care can amplify your ability to kick major ass in life and enhance your ambition, not diminish it
So, I really want to give you a really easy meditation that will suddenly fill you with tranquility and clarity of mind so you can solve all the major problems of the world right now. Seriously. I would love to do that. But I can’t, because that is more of a fantasy than anything JK Rowling ever wrote.
Although you struggle to loosen up without losing your edge, you have the potential to actually implement self-care strategies that provide you more freedom instead of more things to do. The trick is you have to accept that self-care isn’t a step-by-step project, but rather a process that you discover by feeling your way into it.
When you choose to accept that self-care isn’t a project to be managed, you have the amazing opportunity to dive deep into your creativity and transform your life into something that you enjoy living.
how to slow your shit way down so you can stop to smell the artisan brewed pour over while plotting your next big adventure
So even though it may be true that perfectionism rules the roost in your life right now, and that it loves to whisper to you that without it you are going to lose everything you’ve worked so hard to achieve, and probably end up living in a box under an overpass with everyone in your life inexplicitly hating you because…well, you don’t know. But it probably would be justified. Slowing down, taking legit care of yourself, that’s for the unambitious. Of which you are not one.
Here’s the thing: perfectionism is lying it’s ass off to you. Learning to take good care of yourself is actually going to skyrocket your ability to succeed. Perfectionism doesn’t believe you have any limitations. Self-care knows you do and that in order to succeed beyond your wildest expectations, you need to know the boundaries of what is and isn’t achievable. The key to achieving extraordinary success is to know how to be in relationship–first with yourself, and also with others.
Leaning into healthy, realistic self-care is not as difficult as you may think because there are very few rules to follow to get you to a place that life is fun and fulfilling. In fact, these are some of the most fun rules I follow in my life and I think as we incorporate them into our lives, we discover how much richer, deeper, and enjoyable life can be.
What are you waiting for? Keep reading to dig into my four rules to see how you can loosen up without losing your edge
One of the reasons you struggle with wanting to actually practice self-care is because you struggle with fear that it’s going to ruin your life. It makes complete sense that you’re feeling that way. So often when we have had to handle crisis after crisis, chaos feels normal and familiar. Even though it looks totally irrational on the surface, the idea of taking good care of yourself can be shit-your-pants scary.
BUT, it doesn’t have to stay this way. When you start finding small, concrete ways to regularly practice self-care, you’ll discover that self-care can ease your shame, without stealing your edge. #truestory, it’s SO much easier to get shit done when you’re not filled with chaotic anxiety and consistent shame spiraling.
Rule #1: Choose Curiosity
Perfectionism is a never-satisfied critic. In order to combat the many messages that perfectionism sends you throughout the day (mostly about how you’re failing and how everything will hit the fan if you don’t do something immediately), we begin by turning the criticisms into curiosities.
This step is simple, but definitely not easy. The trick is to banish shame and blame, while still holding onto the importance of the information.
For instance, I have clients brainstorm as many of the critical thoughts as they can pull up. After doing so, they would circle the thoughts that seem to be regularly guests in their thoughts. One I hear a lot is, “I’m not good enough.”
Perfectionism loves to keep it vague and broad, because not being good enough could apply to any number of things. So the next step is to push the critical thought to get more specific by asking questions of it, like, “well, what are you not good enough for? To whom? And is it even important to you to be good at that thing?”
The answers always vary, and often relate back to places that are really important. Maybe for you the not good enough would be related to work: “I’m not ever getting my projects done quick enough. I’m never going to get a promotion unless I work late every night. And really I should be coming in earlier too.”
Or maybe it’s related to romantic relationships: “Uh, nice one about that emotional intimacy thing, Jenn. I suck at emotional intimacy, every time I try, I just get hurt. The truth is no one really wants to be in a relationship with me. All I’m good for is sex. So I might as well just do what I’m good at and fuck the rest.”
And the list could go on and on.
Regardless of what the thought is, you can go deep and get as curious as possible about it. Where did that thought come from? What evidence do they have for the thought being true? Being untrue? And how is that thought serving them? What need, in a super painful round-about way, is perfectionism trying to meet for them?
When you get curious about all the things your inner critic has to say, you start to see what your needs are. And knowing what your needs are is essential to actually engaging in self-care.
When you choose curiosity instead of criticism, you discover what you need, which leads you one step closer to getting it, instead of getting lost in perfectionism’s elaborate system of do’s and don’ts.
Rule #2: Celebrate the Unexpected
The other day they screwed up my order at Starbucks. Which meant a free drink and bacon egg bites for me. Yeah, it took five extra minutes to get everything sorted and I had to wait in that weird “we’ll bring you out your stuff soon, we promise” area of the drive thru, but guys! It’s free breakfast. So I did what I try always to do when the unexpectedly bad becomes good, I cranked the radio and did a little dance in my car.
People do not celebrate enough. We don’t delight in the unexpected wonders that permeate our world. It can be so easy to look at life as one never ending series of problems to be solved, pile of broken items to be fixed. But life is so much more than that. It’s full of glorious reminders that being alive is both pretty fucking weird, and often pretty fucking awesome.
Together, with my clients, I help them identify the celebratory moments of their week–sometimes they’re big deals like someone getting promoted, or engaged, or buying their first place. But often they’re smaller, more subtle celebrations, like catching a red flag on a first date, asserting themselves during a meeting, or setting a boundary with their parents.
To do this on your own, you can start a fuckin’ hoorah list (I keep it on the notes app of my phone, though a lot of my clients like to handwrite it out) where you pay attention every day for something that went well, an experience where you felt proud of yourself, or even that sigh of relief for dodging a bullet. And then, as much as you’re able too, imagine yourself taking that hoorah into yourself, holding onto the good as much as you hold onto the bad.
As you start to celebrate and hold onto the good in your life, you’ll begin to find yourself feeling steadier when the bad does show up. Because you know internally that you have lots of good to balance it out.
Rule #3: Waste Time. As Much As You Can Stand.
Which brings us to the self-care rule that’s probably going to freak you out. Because in order to really get your needs met, you have to experiment. And not every experiment is going to work for you.
So often the reason that people stop trying to do the self-care thing is because it doesn’t feel productive, which means it is deemed unsuccessful and a waste of time. And the truth of it is, some self-care is a waste of time. And that is precisely the point. We all need more space to experiment, to make things messy, and to allow ourselves to not get it right.
With clients, I typically encourage them to think of potential self-care activities by engaging their senses. We talk about what activities they could engage in that would delight their sense of smell (like buying a fancy AF candle), of taste (savoring last night’s leftovers or treating yourself to a way overpriced popsicle), of touch (puppy snuggles all day long), of sound (indulging in making a mile long Spotify playlist), and of sight (slowing down and really watching a TV show without multitasking). There are literally hundreds of options here, but the rubric has to be, “if I had all the time in the world, and I HAD to spend three hours doing something non-productive, what would I do?”
And as long as the answer isn’t work (because duh, work is generally about being productive), than you do it.
When you give yourself permission (and continue to remind yourself that you have, even when perfectionism is screaming in your mind, “this.will.ruin.everything.”) a kind of magic can happen: wasting time becomes investing time in yourself, in getting your needs met.
Rule #4: Treat Yourself with Kindness
Ultimately, self-care isn’t meant to be just another task that you have to accomplish to meet some made-up standard of what it means to be a successful person (or, for that matter, a good human in general). Self-care, at its core, is treating yourself with kindness. This can encompass all sorts of actions, some ephemeral, some concrete.
Treating yourself with kindness can mean giving yourself permission to take a random day off every now and then, to just let yourself be, without beating yourself up about all the work that isn’t getting done. Self-care means making time to go to the bathroom when you need to, remembering to eat lunch, and spending a little extra on something that brings you genuine joy (case in point: London Fogs every work day for me, even though I KNOW I could make them at home, I choose to give myself the pleasure of stopping and chatting with Ruth or Jamal at my local chain).
And it can mean investing in yourself and finally going to therapy. To invite another person into your process, and ask for help, instead of continuing to try to do it all on your own. When we try to do all the shit on our own, we will quickly burn out. Self-care, especially for perfectionists, isn’t something that can easily be DIYed. It’s okay to ask for help, especially if the alternative is to work yourself to death with a hollow consolation prize of “well, at least I got that promotion.”
Right now there's only one item on your to-do list: stop waiting to ask for help.
You absolutely can find ways to engage in self-care that work for you, rather than feel like more work. Discovering what your needs are and getting them met is so possible, if you’re willing to give yourself some time and risk asking for help.
And dude. I can help. Helping perfectionists find ways to transform their critical, rat-race inner voice into one that is kind, badass and super successful is literally one of my favorite things to do.
So stop making ten million to do lists that include bath bombs and getting up at five AM, and schedule your free 20 minute phone consult here.