Releasing Perfectionism

03/30/2015 11:55 am ET | Updated May 30, 2015

I am grateful for letting go of my old perfectionistic, all-or-nothing ways. I am grateful for releasing the unrealistic, unattainable standards I held for myself and others. I am grateful for living a "better-than-perfect" life.

For decades, I thought perfectionism was a noble endeavor. I should be everything to everyone, strive for the greatest success without failing or looking stupid, incessantly focus on achieving more, rather than appreciating the present. I thought, "if I can just be perfect, then I will be happy and so will everyone around me." In reality, perfectionism was draining my positive energy, straining my relationships and constraining my joy.

In my personal life, perfectionism was depleting my sense of self-worth. I was only as "good" as my most recent accomplishment, success or compliment.

And when judging myself on the inside, I couldn't help but do the same on the outside. I had created ridiculous rules in my mind about how others should act and got upset when they didn't follow these standards. I can remember getting in an argument with my then boyfriend, now husband (Bless him for staying with me) about not inviting me to an event that he knew I would decline anyway. His rationale: "She'll be out of town." My judgmental thinking, "If he cared about me he would ask me to go even if he knows I can't go."

Perfectionism was also hurting my business. I put off certain tasks that were vital to the growth of my company because I was fearful that they wouldn't be perfect. For example, it took me over two years to write a book, an endeavor that could easily have taken half the time. The conviction, "It's not good enough" kept me editing and re-editing the manuscript.

And even more than the restraint of financial flow, this perfectionism prevented me from fulfilling my mission in life: to help people before they need a proverbial shrink couch. I wasn't sharing my message because the wording wasn't perfect.

I now see that perfectionism isn't about creating and enjoying a great life. Perfectionism prevents a truly great life from being created.

But, tell any perfectionist, "It doesn't have to be perfect" and we nod our head in agreement on one hand. On a deeper level, though, we think "Yes, it does!" Why? Because I, like so many other perfectionists, equated perfectionism with my self worth. My work was either perfect or a failure. And if it was a failure, then I was a failure.

And there was no way I was going to strive for a C+. Excellence was important to me.

So what could I do?

I realized what I really wanted was what I thought perfectionism could bring me: excellence, happiness, confidence, success.

While perfectionism doesn't actually bring those, being better than perfect does. Focusing on being better than perfect, I was able to take off the internal boxing gloves that were perpetually beating me up. With less stress comes a different perspective. Yes, I can still strive for the A+. I can also enjoy life a whole lot more.

As I live a better than perfect life, I am better able to feel appreciative for the people, experiences and events in my life. And I am grateful for three overarching principles I have discovered:

  1. Failure doesn't make me a failure: I have a new motto: It's not failure, it's data. When something happens that I didn't want, instead of using it as "proof" that I suck, I choose to see how I can learn from it.
  2. Most people have positive intentions: People don't always act the way I want them to -- and they almost always have a good reason. When I put myself in their shoes, I can see that what they do that I might have taken personally in the past actually has a positive motivation. When a potential client doesn't get back to me in the time frame I think she should, rather than personalize it to mean, "She must not think I'm good enough," I take a step back and realize there are hundreds of reasons why she may not have reached out. The majority of which have nothing to do with me.
  3. We all have a built in feedback system: I used to think that feeling lousy was a bad thing. Now I realize it is simply feedback. Having a feeling I don't want doesn't mean I am stuck in a funk. It means I am having a thought that doesn't fit right. Like wearing a shoe that is too small and feels uncomfortable, a thought that is not right for me will result in discomfort. If it were a shoe, I would simply take it off and put on another one. Now, I gratefully see I can do the same with a thought that doesn't feel good; I can simply replace it with one that does.

I am so grateful that I have been able to drop the perfectionism and embrace a "better-than-perfect" life that is filled with appreciation, passion and love.

This blog post is part of a series for HuffPost Gratitude, entitled 'The One Thing I'm Most Thankful For.' To see all the other posts in the series, click here To contribute, submit your 500 - 800 word blogpost to