“Perfectionism is a self-destructive belief system. It’s a way of thinking that says: ‘If I look perfect, live perfect, and work perfect, I can avoid or minimize criticism and blame.’” ~Brené Brown
I struggled with trying new things in my past. I learned growing up that failure was bad. I used to be a gifted child, slightly ahead of my peers. As I got older, everything went downhill.
Whenever I tried out a new activity, I would quit if I wasn’t instantly perfect at it. If there was the slightest imperfection, I would get extremely frustrated and upset. I would obsess over the same mistakes in my past over and over.
This made me procrastinate and avoid trying new things, fearing failure. I would simply tell my friends “I’m not interested” when they tried to get me to grow outside my comfort zone.
I tried out various passion projects, solely focused on the results. Sketching was a fun hobby of mine, but I was slowly losing steam. “All the drawings I’m doing aren’t good enough! Argh!”
I attempted public speaking competitions. “I didn’t get any prize? This is such a waste.”
And even stopped having an interest in sports when I was dominated in a match by my friends.
I didn’t know it at that time, but this was a clear case of unhealthy perfectionism.
Growing up, I thought I was good at everything. I embodied this identity with pride. But when I did something that contradicted this identity, like failing at something, I did everything I could to not feel that pain again. Even if it meant I didn’t pursue my passions and feared failure my whole life.
Now that I’ve grown internally more, I’ve realized that perfectionism is really about control—trying to control how people see you. Perfectionism is, at its core, about earning approval and acceptance.
“Perfectionism isn’t striving to be our best or working towards excellence. Healthy striving is internally driven, perfectionism is externally driven with a simple, all-consuming question: ‘What will people think of me?’” ~Brené Brown
Studies show that perfectionism actually hampers the path to success and leads to anxiety and depression. Achieving mastery is fueled by curiosity and viewing failures as opportunities for learning. Perfectionism kills curiosity.
When I was struggling to reach my own high standards, I learned that it’s better to move on and figure out how to thoughtfully bridge the gap between where I was and where I wanted to be over time, rather than spinning my wheels and being stuck in place in an effort to get everything perfect today.
Curing my unhealthy perfectionism and letting in authenticity, I believe, mainly came down to grace.
I gave myself the acceptance and grace to be where I was that day, and to enjoy the process rather than the result. I allowed myself to make mistakes, be curious, and experiment. This was a major turning point in my life. I didn’t want to live with fear anymore, so I vowed to live authentically and be free.
I stopped putting pressure on myself and let my childlike curiosity out. I became adventurous and started trying new things. Every time I did something outside my comfort zone (and a little scary), I wanted to jump with excitement. I felt truly alive and present.
This is what it means to be successful—growing from failures and enjoying the journey instead of trying to do everything perfectly.
I practiced mindfulness, self-love, and gratitude to further improve my mental state. I realized that I badly craved approval from the outside world, even though I used to deny it and have this “I don’t care what others think of me” attitude. I used to be wary of how others would judge me, so I focused on developing my relationship with myself and loving myself exactly as I was.
But of course, the change wasn’t immediate, and it took me some time to fully cure my perfectionism. I started slowly changing my thought patterns by speaking kindly to myself, as if I was my younger self. I imagined myself as a young child who just needed love and acceptance. I forgave myself when I made mistakes, let go of the past, and moved on.
I encouraged myself to keep improving and I continued to work on my passion projects—showing up every day. Now, it has led me here, where I can share my guidance and love with those who need it. I am more fulfilled and happier than ever.
And I now know that failing doesn’t mean I’m a failure. It means I’m someone who’s brave enough to try new things, and that’s the identity I now embody with pride.