I have struggled with perfectionism for as long as I can remember. It has some pretty heavy and negative consequences in my life, but ultimately I never wanted to get rid of it because I couldn’t imagine being successful without it. I misconstrued my perfectionism with my drive and that was a mistake.
I’m sure perfectionism manifests itself differently depending on the person. For me, it is almost like feeling paralyzed by indecision… but also a fear of doing things if I don’t think I can do them perfectly (or even well enough)…. and sometimes it just makes me feel like something isn’t “right” and I can’t shake the feeling that something is off. Often I’ll try to work on something until it feels “right”– this could be anything from how an outfit looks in the mirror and feels on my body or how a work project is coming together. Of course, I have to get dressed and have to meet deadlines, but if I haven’t gotten to the point where it feels “right,” then it bothers me for days and I can’t shake it. It can really affect me– my self-talk gets negative, my mood can plummet, and it will consume my thoughts. You can see how this is not a fun way to live.
Partly with age and partly with just good ole fashioned work, I’ve improved this significantly especially as I neared the end of my 20s. I still struggle with perfectionism, but I don’t think it controls my life like it did before. I still do get a “naked on stage in front of an audience” feeling when something doesn’t feel right…. but I can also shake it a lot quicker than I could before. I know what to do to move on and just, for lack of a better phrase, get over it.
Recently though, I realized just how far I’ve come. Sometimes it’s harder to notice the absence of something and it definitely took me a bit to notice how little perfectionism was negatively impacting my life on an everyday basis. In an effort of self-improvement, I was trying to pinpoint exactly what changed. For a while, I felt like things were as good as they could be and then I realized that it had improved even more…. but why?!
As the title suggests, I’m pretty sure the introduction of hobbies was what moved the needle for me. The timing lines up and when I look at what hobbies have done for my personal life, I don’t think the transformation just ends at “enjoyment.” For years, I had been so focused on school and crew, both of which were intent and very much up for external judgment (grades and competitions). Then I had work and went through a huge period where I burnt myself out by not doing anything but work. Eventually, I started changing my life… eating better, sleeping more, working out, spending more time with friends, basically giving myself some space from work. Then as I approached 30, I introduced hobbies into my life. By chance, but nonetheless, once they were in my life, I couldn’t imagine not doing them.
I think hobbies are amazing. And important… but they’re also kind of falling to the wayside culturally speaking. In Facebook groups and Reddit threads I belong to, I see it come up a lot. People have no idea what their hobbies are, or what their interests are outside of family and work, or what they even enjoy doing. We also live in a society that puts a huge emphasis on turning hobbies into side hustles. But then those interests turn from pure enjoyment to work. The opposite of a hobby!
I feel like right now I have a few hobbies… for example, let’s consider needlepoint and sewing. Sadly, I haven’t figured out how to put more focus on my sewing since becoming a mom (I miss it!), but I have been needlepointing consistently. Both hobbies force me to let go of perfection, without even realizing. I am always striving to learn more and to boost my skillsets…. but they’re low pressure. I’m doing more solely for enjoyment. Not for more money. Not for any kind of external award or recognition. I like to learn new things as they relate to these hobbies.
They both have also required a lot of trial and error. Maybe it was even just the act of “trying” that helped me so much. I feel like in so many areas of my life, I’m forced to do and there’s not a lot of room, or time, to fail. With needlepoint and sewing…. it doesn’t really matter if something works out or not. I can attempt without fear or shame. I have all the time in the world to figure a tricky skill out. Nothing I’m producing is for sale, so there’s no customer to impress other than myself. (Most of my projects don’t even see the light of day and serve no “real” purpose.) If I’m happy with something and if I enjoyed making it, that’s enough. And what a relief to not have any kind of pressure.
I also would consider pickleball a hobby for me. It’s a form of working out, but I’m playing just for fun. (I do sometimes feel my competitive spirit getting the best of me though, so it’s not always perfect.) Our instructor always reminds us that it’s a game, not a sport. I really never enjoyed playing sports (or games for that matter), if I felt like I couldn’t win or do things perfectly. This ruined a lot of things growing up– I would have rather have sat out a simple game of four square and miss out completely than to play and either lose or (!!!!) make a fool of myself. I am by no means great at pickleball. It’s just fun! I am pushing myself a little to get better, but only because I want to learn to play better. I don’t need to learn how to play expertly for any reason.
With any kind of hobby, there’s a longevity to it. This practice of working through problems and learning over time, with no deadline in sight, makes it an ideal way to practice overcoming perfectionism. Even if you don’t realize you’re doing it– like me– it’s happening in the background. And this is probably the biggest lesson for me…. I really think it happened naturally because I…. well…. let go of control. I really think that trying to overcome perfectionism only leads to more perfectionism, or just replacing the perfectionism in one area and moving it to another.