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It's Time To Let Go: Letter to a Perfectionist

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Dear perfectionist, 

I know what it’s like to walk in your shoes.  I call myself a “recovering perfectionist,” but most of the time I’m not sure what makes me different from someone who’s not “recovering”.

There are days where the drive to achieve, to do more, to get it right overwhelms me.  And there are days where I’m able to give myself more grace.  But often, I have no idea what kind of day it’ll be when I wake up in the morning. 

So when it is a tough day, I need something to hold onto. A reminder to give myself grace. And the words that have been coming to mind repeatedly have been simple: It’s time to let go.

Can I share these words with you, my perfectionist friend?

Let go of the “have to”s.

You have a to-do list that will never truly be finished.  Your thoughts tell you all the things you have to do before you can truly feel settled.

Problem is, that list will never be fully completed.

Maybe they’re saying, “I have to do this or else I don’t matter” or “I have to do this because this is the right way.”  In some way, your value or worth is tied up in completing tasks or accomplishing goals.  If you don’t finish, you’re not worthwhile.

What do your “have to”s sound like?  And are they really true?

Remember this: worth and value are inherent in who you are as a person.  You cannot attain more value by performing better, beating everyone else, being the best, producing perfection. 

Let go of expectations.

My guess is you have pretty high expectations for yourself. 

Likely you beat yourself up for the smallest of mistakes and have high standards.  You question and doubt yourself.  But those high expectations set you up for a crash when you inevitably can’t meet them. 

And what about your expectations of others?  Are they a mirror of your expectations for yourself?

Do you judge others for not doing what you’d expect them to do?  Not producing the quality of work you would do yourself?  Allowing their failures to define who they are?

Careful, perfectionist, for this will cost you relationships.  No one can live up to these high expectations, especially if they don’t know you have them.

Perhaps your expectations of others don’t even come close to the standard you set for yourself?   Why is that?

If this is true, use this knowledge to set more realistic expectations for yourself.  When you’re beating yourself up for yet one more failure, ask yourself how you’d speak to your best friend.  Their words wouldn’t be nearly as harsh as you are to yourself.

We are our own worst critic, after all.

Let go of “doing it right.”

Answer me this, perfectionist: how often have you found yourself obsessing over details? How much extra time do you end up spending on that project?

Is it worth it?  What is it costing you?  Time with your family?  Peace and calm?

What you produce is not the same as who you are.

It is okay for you to make mistakes.  Making a mistake does not mean that you are a mistake.

Let go of control.

This is a hard one for you, perfectionist.  You know that if you’re in control, what you need will get done, and it’ll get done right

But my goodness, carrying the weight of the world gets heavy sometimes.

There is so much that’s outside of your control. 

The weather.  A crisis situation you didn’t expect.  The choices and responses of others.

If you try to grasp at control in everything, you will fail.

I know letting go of control is scary.  It can feel unsafe, as if you’re giving up your security.  Focus instead on what you can control: your thoughts, your feelings, your actions, your attitudes.

Let go of all or nothing thinking.

Perfectionists tend to have pretty rigid thinking patterns.  Remember the “have to”s?

All or nothing.  Right or wrong.  Good or bad.

These false dichotomies trap you in an endless tug-of-war where you always lose.

Acknowledge the “and.”

This document can have a typo and I still did a great job.

I can love you and forget to stop at the store to pick up the thing you asked. 

I can be a good and worthwhile person and still make mistakes.

Let go of doing it all yourself.

You aren’t responsible for carrying the world on your shoulders. You aren’t Superman or Wonder Woman.  You need help.

“But if I let someone else help, what if they do it wrong?  What if it’s not the quality I know I can do myself?”

True, they might make mistakes.  They might not follow exactly the same path you would. 

But perhaps an exercise in releasing control and learning not to be perfect is to ask someone for help.  Notice how it feels when you let them complete the work you believed you had to do. 

Let your kid do the dishes one night.  If there’s a little bit of food left on them when you pull them out of the cupboard tomorrow, you’ll know you’re in a good place. 

Let go of comparison and being the best.

It’s so easy to look at someone else’s life and believe that they have it all together while you’re completely falling apart.  Social media is a beast for this, as friends post photos or comments about their most positive moments and neglect to mention the struggles.

It’s impossible to be the best at everything.  To have the perfect family vacation every time.  To have a flawless body.  To be #1 in your line of work. 

What if you thought of it as giving it your best instead of trying to be the best?

And know that your best will change in different seasons.  Your best as a mom of littles isn’t quite the same as your best was when you were single and had much more time on your hands.

Let go of letting go.

I know where your mind might go with this letter, perfectionist.  It might just be one more yardstick you apply to your life to which you’ll never measure up.

Have a little grace for yourself.  You’re not going to be perfect at letting go.

Give it a try.  A little at a time.  Celebrate your victories and learn from where you go wrong.

Let yourself experience moments of peace by not adding to the demands on your life.

You’re going to be okay.  I believe it.

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I know how it feels to be overwhelmed by anxious thoughts and exhaustion from striving to be perfect.  Did this letter resonate with you in any way?  Have you been trying fruitlessly to let go of your perfectionism and move into a place of more peace and grace?  I’d love to help.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me today to set up an appointment at my Ann Arbor counseling office.