The coronavirus pandemic is terrible, causing us all to have to adjust to a completely unprecedented way of living. It is tremendously, dreadfully hard. It is hard on an older generation who might not be used to socializing via Zoom and does not want to spend their retirement limited to social distancing from their peers and the community in which they have invested. It is hard on the extroverts who get energy from engaging and being with others. It is hard for the folks who were already fearful of contamination, as this is now their nightmare realized. It is hard for those who are working full-time and have no work-life balance and those who are now struggling financially because they are not working. It is hard on the single folks who are alone and may feel listless trying to fill their time. It is hard on the people with a full household who are juggling work and fulltime childcare and education. In some way or another, this current state is causing everyone to lose a little. That is what sacrifice is about. However, the group that might feel exceptionally punished by this time is the perfectionists who are used to doing and being it all. Because right now, perfectionism is utterly impossible.
Why perfect is impossible right now
Perfectionism is all about finding control, achieving, and getting results. However, we are not in a result-driven time. We don’t know what life is going to look like in the next few weeks, let alone months or years. Having to settle for less than amazing when you have spent your life doing well is so hard and such a loss. There is a lot of thought likening this time to a grief period. Perfectionists are likely experiencing all the grief states such as denial and anger when they are faced with the loss of what they have been able to achieve in the past versus what can be done now. Now is a time of surviving and maintaining, and improving ourselves—which has been the lifeblood of perfectionists—is getting harder and harder.
To the perfect moms and dads
As a perfectionistic parent, there may have been a push to do all the virtual classes and all the activities in the early weeks. Work full time and be a full-time teacher for the kids? No problem! Bring on the impossible, right?! You basically eat Pinterest boards for breakfast so you can totally do this. But sustained overextension has likely burned you out. You may be fighting with your children or partner because they have their own resistance to your perfectionism, especially now. You may typically be able to move mountains, but now you have little people who may be resistant to rules/listening/bathing/learning/etc. and couldn’t care less about your color-coded schedule board.
To the perfect workers
As someone who is perfectionistic about your job, perhaps you are taking on all the roles and singlehandedly keeping your business going. Maybe you are starting to feel resentful and question why you are working so hard. Perhaps you are neglecting yourself and sleep. It is possible that you have also burned out and perhaps received negative feedback about your performance, which is a huge gut punch because you so deeply care about work and your legacy. Maybe you have previously plotted the best career steps for you and now your industry or line of work is negatively impacted. There is nothing like a global pandemic to make you shift from having a strong focus and identity tied to work to questioning your purpose.
To the perfect caretakers
As a perfectionistic friend or family member, maybe you have spent a lot of time being there for everyone. Maybe planning celebrations and other ways of being thoughtful are getting cancelled so you have shifted to sending and dropping off all the things you think might cheer others up. Maybe you are making all the Zoom calls despite your exhaustion and checking in with everyone else. Perhaps the pressure you have put on yourself to singlehandedly be attuned to everyone else’s mental health might be having the opposite effect on your own mental state. It is possible you are feeling detached or just empty inside.
To those with perfect aesthetics
As someone who has perfected your appearance or the appearance of your space, it is possible this is starting to get hard to maintain. Perhaps you have relied on others to maintain your appearance, such as hairstylists, and now left to your own devices you have not produced a perfect set of bangs. Maybe you are experiencing fluctuations in your weight right now despite usually having a tight grip on what the scale says. Maybe you are used to having an über-clean and organized home but you can’t keep up with the amount of laundry/dishes/floor cleaning now that everyone is home all the time. Perhaps you have leaned into organizing yet you have run out of things to de-clutter and now feel stuck with nothing more to do with that nervous energy.
How to settle for less
If you have a reaction to the above subtitle, take a breath and don’t stop reading just yet. In a lot of ways, this time is causing us to flex and make changes that will benefit us in the long run. It’s easier said than done to lean into positives right now. However, finding ways to loosen the grip that perfectionism might have on you is a good thing. Right now, perfection has to shift from results to process.
Notice little blips of perfect
If you are not completely ready to let go of perfectionism, there are ways to notice and attribute some of the control you want. Baby steps, right?! Find ways to complete tasks or find small moments of making things perfect. Maybe you can focus on a specific assignment, work conversation, or interaction with others. Perhaps the entire house can’t be perfected, but getting the dishes done each night is possible. Whether it is finishing a project, a puzzle, a book, or organizing a shelf, something—there are ways to have some of that sense of achievement that perfectionists crave. A caveat though: See small moments of completion and perfection as band-aids versus a gateway drug to taking on more and more and then getting burned out once again.
Notice perfect presence
The pull towards perfectionism is often about how it looks versus how hard it is to get there. Embodying the principals of mindfulness, if you can be present right now that is good enough. Instead of getting pulled into the past or future, staying mindful allows us to loosen some of the hold perfectionism can have. Meditation is a huge help with mindfulness. Breathing and taking in a sensory experience is what we can go all in on right now. Use that energy of being a hard worker to turn inward and strive for finding ways to breathe, moments of calm, and focus on acceptance.
You are perfectly human
Embrace failures. Lower expectations. Let go. Allow yourself to be vulnerable and break down. These statements spit in the face of perfectionism. Let others see your flaws? Accept your humanity and allow others to see you are not actually superhuman?! Absolutely not; no thanks. But that is the way through this. We need to ask for support and allow some of our friends, family, and colleagues to succeed and win. This goes against every fiber of our being. But we have to stop swinging from one extreme to another. Not being perfect does not mean failure. We literally cannot do everything now, but we also can’t do nothing. So find moments, even very small ones, where you just try on the idea of agreeing that you are struggling, too. Let yourself admit that you are imperfect during a global pandemic. In a time of restrictions and loss, what you can receive or gain is the freedom to be authentic with yourself and the world around you.