Perfectionism vs. the Healthy Pursuit of Excellence
You might think to yourself “what’s wrong with perfectionism? What’s the big deal? It’s good to be perfect right?”
To an extent you are right, because perfectionism has two sides – healthy perfectionism and unhealthy perfectionism. With healthy perfectionism we push ourselves for our best performance, but we also know when to stop because we have realistic expectations for what we can manage. However, with unhealthy perfectionism we tend to either keep pushing ourselves for the very “best” and then feel either burned out or disappointed as a result when we don’t reach these standards. Or – somewhat counterintuitively – we procrastinate and don’t try at all, because what’s the point of trying if we can never achieve it anyway? We give up before we even start. It’s an exhausting cycle and as a result of this, more and more people are struggling to cope. Perfectionism is no mean feat, as it can lead to anxiety, stress, burnout, depression, eating disorders and even suicide.
Perfectionism Is an Epidemic of the Millennial
Millennials faced tougher social and economic conditions than their parents’ generation did. Millennials were not able to graduate college, walk into their first job and buy a house like their parents maybe could do. The times were just different back then. The previous generation even exceeded many expectations of success that were put on them by the generation before them, so maybe they carried forward even bigger expectations onto their children? “The sky is the limit!”
However, the conditions that millennials grew up in, instead fostered a need to be perfect, because it was the only way to survive. Nowadays, we are fighting for beginner level (unpaid) positions that require years of education and experience, while the housing prices have gone up so high that buying a house has become nearly impossible. Not only is the millennial fighting this system, but we are also facing the rise of social media – seeing the picture perfect, highly successful influencers, who effortlessly seem to have it all figured out. The ‘highlight reel’ of everyone doing great around them. This in turn feeds the need to be better – or ‘perfect’, you might say.
When Only the Best Is Good Enough
When everyone is great, it makes the culture extremely competitive. Millennials grew up in this kind of culture where you only got rewarded for being the best. Thus, we were taught that being good is not good enough, as you had to be ‘perfect’ to be better than everyone else. The problem with this perfectionist mind-set is that we are not perfect! We are only human.
As therapists we see this often: high achieving, well earning individuals end up in therapy with mental health problems all the time due to perfectionism. They struggle to see their achievements for what they are and instead they are hyper focused on the negatives and comparing themselves with others.
Do you resonate with this? Are your standards also impossibly high? You are not alone: you have the company of a whole generation.
If you notice perfectionism affecting your life, why not consider professional psychological counselling? It could be what you need to break free from these unrelenting – and realistically unachievable – standards.