April 28, 2011
Trying to be the perfect mom, the perfect co-worker, or the perfect spouse can be exhausting. But is striving for perfection an impossible task?
"You can't have perfection in an imperfect world," says Elliot Cohen, author of "The Dutiful Worrier: How to Stop Compulsive Worry without Feeling Guilty" (New Harbinger Publications). "When someone demands perfection, either with themselves or with others, they create frustration for all involved."
Cohen says high demands often stem from guilt, and that the need for perfection can create a worrying cycle that is physically and mentally taxing.
"It's important to realize there are some things you can control and some you can't," says Cohen. "Our logical mind knows this, but our emotions step in and we think, 'But I can be the exception to the rule.' That demand for control is typically what creates anxiety about the future."
"When we try to perfect too many things we lose the ability to go all out on the things that are really important to us," adds Becky Beaupre Gillespie, co-author of the book "Good Enough is the New Perfect: Finding Happiness and Success in Modern Motherhood" (Harlequin). "Often people lose sight of their passions and deepest desires when they try to be the best at everything."
Gillespie interviewed more than 900 working moms of different ethnicities and financial backgrounds who were born between 1965 and 1980. The results seemed to point to two distinctly different groups: the "Never Enoughs"—high achievers who had a strong need to be the best at everything—and the "Good Enoughs," who said being best was not as important and being happy at work and at home.
"The Good Enoughs were more often happier in their marriages and in their jobs than the Never Enoughs," says Gillespie. "The Never Enoughs made a little more money on average, but they were often overwhelmed with worry and obsessed over tedious tasks."
Gillespie also found that the Good Enoughs were more likely to take risks with new career paths, and the Never Enoughs often felt an obligation to try to achieve as much as possible because the opportunities weren't there for previous generations.
"This is really the first generation that didn't have to fight to get into the door," says Gillespie. "Their mothers and grandmothers fought for this, and many women felt they had to honor that."
But Cohen says the need to be a career success can cause much disappointment and worry.
"Your value is not based on your use or your job title," he said. "But people really need to make a conscious effort to reframe their view of their own self worth."
Here are some tips on how to let go of the need to be perfect.
Switch from being the best to doing your best. "This isn't settling or slacking off," says Gillespie. "It's honing in on the priorities and being realistic."
Never compare yourself to others. "Women have a tendency to look around at other women and compare ourselves," says Gillespie. "If one mom is teaching her child Mandarin Chinese and bragging about it on the playground, you can't get competitive about it. There isn't a one-size-fits-all approach."
Don't be afraid to quit your job. "Quitting is not the same as failing," says Gillespie. "Quitting strategically is letting go to of something that isn't working."
Embrace serenity. "Serenity is the middle ground between perfectionism and indifference," says Cohen. "Once you find this, you will feel the difference. But you have to muster up your will power to really break the cycle."
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