It’s time to be kinder on ourselves – just take it from former perfectionist TAN MIN YAN.
Photography Vee Chin Art Direction Shan
For the longest time, I was convinced that I was just one of the few unfortunate enough to be riddled with overwhelming guilt and a sense of inadequacy in whatever I did.
As a writer, I constantly hated what I wrote, convinced that I was going to be uncovered as a fraud (note to my editor: I’m not. Really.). Friends complimented that I looked like I “had everything figured out”, and I clung to it like a lifeline to assuage my feelings of guilt every time I messed up. I wondered why it seemed so easy for everyone else when I felt like a constant train wreck.
But I wasn’t alone. As it turns out, this never-ending sense of “I should be doing more and better” is, ironically enough, a defining feature of a perfectionist. Society glorifies perfectionists, lauding them for having high standards, but it’s also neglected the nasty mental and emotional burden that comes with having unrealistically high expectations of oneself. And guess what: Women are more likely than men to have perfectionistic tendencies.
According to a Gallup Health and Well-Being Index and a Huffington Post article on women with so-called perfectionistic guilt, many women today often juggle the roles of co-worker, partner, parent et al., and in trying to be the best at each of these, she is often overworked and underappreciated. Yet, at the same time, the most pronounced emotion they felt was guilt – over “failing themselves, their employers, their partners and their children”.
Here’s the thing: this guilt can come from seemingly inconsequential things too – not being able to go for Friday night drinks with your friends because you have a family dinner or vice versa, or having to miss a gym session because of work. Essentially, it’s the nagging feeling of being not good enough – not a good enough colleague, friend, partner, daughter – and being terrified of having all your shortcomings put on display for the world to see.
As a serial self-doubter, here’s what I say: We should all be a little kinder on ourselves. I used to wield my perfectionism as a beacon of virtue – something to be proud of – but it has drained me mentally and emotionally.
I’m not saying it’s easy to grow out of a perfectionistic streak, because it’s not. I still hate what I write sometimes, and I’m still envious of women who look like they rolled out of bed with perfect hair and makeup. But I’ve learned to look at the bigger picture: The world will not end just because you mess up along the way. Not being perfect doesn’t mean being sloppy and lazy; it just means learning to let the little things go, and remembering that everyone else is, more likely than not, bumbling along in life too. You’ll be just fine.