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The Problem With Perfectionism

Keep The First Picture

After a long run in the blistering Texas heat with my friend, she looks at me and says, “Let’s take a picture!” Instinctually I said, “sure!” and smiled for the camera.  Then I saw the photo… After pausing to think about the state of my face (I looked like Sloth from The Goonies), I frantically asked, “Maybe we should take another one?” And then she said something that I found remarkably empowering… She said she was starting a new personal goal to keep the first picture. 

Puzzled, I asked her why. “It seems like everyone takes about ten pictures and funnels through at least five different filters before they’re satisfied with the photo they’ve recreated. Why don’t we just appreciate the raw moment we captured the first time?” she asked. 

Wow, why don’t we?…

The Problem with Perfectionism 

It seems like there is an unspoken expectation that we should always be happy and healthy. We should always be perfect.  Even when we’re going through some of the darkest moments in our lives, there’s an underlying pressure to keep it hidden. “I can’t talk about this. I must appear like I’ve got it all together” we tell ourselves. Whether you’re a single parent, having trouble at work, or dealing with a mental or physical illness, somehow it’s a lot easier to post a photo of you smiling than one that shows what’s really going on… 

The problem with perfectionism is that it’s not only impossible but fleeting. The second we feel like we’ve achieved the slightest perfection in one area of our lives, we’re paranoid about the mess we’re hiding in another corner.  And there we go: around-and-around this cycle of striving, failing (while making the appearance of succeeding), feeling disappointed and ashamed, and then doing it all over again. Even in my own life, this cycle has deceived me into missing out on some pretty great moments, which to me is the most disappointing outcome of perfectionism.

We’re Missing Out on The Moment!

The pressure we feel to be perfect can cause us to miss out on the moment. Perfectionism convinces us that there’s an even better moment to be fabricated and if we believe it enough, then it’s that fabricated moment that actually happened. 

There are two problems with this lie that Perfectionism tells us: First, believing a moment is perfect doesn’t make it so. Second, who says the moment that actually happened wasn’t worth cherishing even if it wasn’t “perfect?!”

Even messy moments have a purpose. It’s the messy moments that have brought you where you are today. These moments should be celebrated! Not hidden. It’s the failing that teaches us the most, gives us the humility to try again, and ultimately allows us to grow. 

Speaking as a chronic perfectionist myself, I know how hard it is to actually flip the switch and just sit in imperfection.  The truth is, there’s a fine line between being okay with imperfection and being apathetic to personal growth. That’s why “keeping the first picture” can be such an empowering tool for us perfectionists! It’s a simple action that creates change little-by-little, picture-by-picture. 

What “Keeping the First Picture” Can Teach You

  1. It teaches you to appreciate the moment for what it is…sweat and all! Looking at that photo can show you exactly what was happening in your life at that moment that eventually led you to this moment. The candid nature of life can be harsh and daunting, but it is also sweet and transformative. When you look back on that first picture, you can use it as a window to reflect and then grow. 

  2. It empowers you to let go of Perfectionism. Keeping the first picture can give you the courage to slowly let go of the “ideas” of perfect moments you’re chained to. To look at your tired face and say “Man, that was a crazy day”, but know that you hold the power to say “No” to Perfectionism. You don’t have to put on a show or a filter just to appease Perfectionism. You can be authentic! One picture at a time. 

As a therapist, I have seen so many clients who struggle with the desire to have the perfect life (perfect relationships, perfect job, the perfect body), or at least seem perfect on the outside… In their search for perfection though, they’ve missed out on the moment! Although it seems simple, keeping the first picture can help you take one step towards appreciating what you have and letting go of what is unachievable and frankly not as perfect as it seems. 

After I kept that first picture I didn’t see how red and sweaty I was, I saw two friends who hadn’t seen each other in months, after a long run, talking about our lives, our future, and our friendship.

What do you see in your first picture?

Georgi Chizk, M.S., LAMFT is a warm, compassionate marriage counselor, individual therapist and family therapist who creates a safe and supportive space for you to find meaning in your struggles, realize your self-worth, and cultivate healthy connections with the most important people in your life.

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