What do you think when you hear the word “perfectionist”?

Perhaps your first thoughts are of someone you went to school with… the one who was always prepared in class, who worked ahead, turned in every assignment letter-perfect and on time.

Or maybe it brings to mind a friend who always looks “put together,” not a hair out of place, clothes always neat and pressed.

You might recall a co-worker, always the model employee, who arrived early and stayed late to get “everything” done.

We all know or have known someone who fits our image of a perfectionist. But what we don’t always see is the effort it takes to create that perception. Nor do we see the internal struggle this person might be going through and the stress and strain that come with being a perfectionist.

Have you ever felt that stress and stain yourself? I know I have.

For decades, I never considered myself a perfectionist. Conscientious, yes. Detail-oriented with a strong work ethic, yes. Thorough, absolutely. But not a perfectionist!

It wasn’t until I noticed myself watching others and remarking repeatedly on their perfectionist traits that I began to recognize them in myself. And along with that, I also realized something was . . . missing, something I wanted to feel but wasn’t. Maybe even couldn’t.

You see, perfectionism was robbing me of my JOY. That’s one of the most detrimental side-effects of perfectionism. It keeps us from savoring meaningful moments as they happen, prevents us from being present in the present.

Perfectionism moves us away from true joy. Yet still, we strive for it.

If you think you might be a perfectionist, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do you set goals that are impossible to attain?
  2. Do you put off tasks, especially ones that cause you to feel unsure of yourself?
  3. Have you been called “too modest” in regard to your accomplishments?
  4. Do you find it difficult to accept a compliment?
  5. Do you catch yourself picking out flaws and identifying mistakes in what other people are trying to accomplish?
  6. Do you beat yourself up for your own mistakes long after the mistake even happened?
  7. Do you worry about receiving approval from others?
  8. Do you redo things because they weren’t done right (by yourself or others) the first time?
  9. Do you avoid attempting new things out of a fear of failing?
  10. Do you put yourself down a lot?
  11. Do you spend a great deal of time on tasks or projects to get them exactly right?
  12. Do you ruminate about how you could have done or said something better?

If you find yourself answering yes to many of these questions, you’re not alone.

In my work with women writers and on myself, I’ve realized that the relentless pursuit of perfection comes from a general feeling that no matter what we do, we cannot be good enough. Awareness of the traits of perfectionism (reference questions above) and, more importantly, a concerted cultivation of self-compassion have helped me quell my feelings of “not good enough;” they come less often now. I know in my heart that each and every one of us is good and right just the way we are, including me.

I’m discovering that acceptance of being “good enough”—of embracing being perfectly imperfect—comes with a radical sense of freedom. And, in that freedom, I’m rediscovering joy.

Gina Hogan Edwards is a WomanSpeak Circle Leader, coach, and writer. One of the many resources that has helped her overcome perfectionism is Brene Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection. You can reach out to Gina via her website at GinaHoganEdwards.com and join in her private Facebook group Women Writing for CHANGE.