Last year I broke down due to stress.
I didn’t know what to do anymore. I walked around crying, everyday. A college student, I was so behind on my homework, and I had to catch up in a matter of days. I was a mess. I could barely breathe. Everything was out of control, and never in my life have I felt so powerless. Still, all I could think was:
“If I read everything that’s mentioned in the curriculum, I won’t miss anything important, and I’ll be good enough to pass my exams.”
“If I read 60 pages a day, I’ll finish the book in only four days. Then I can move on to the next book faster.”
“If I run every other day, I can probably make it to the 5K in just one-and-a-half months. Then I don’t have to reach any more goals, just run 5 km every second day to be healthy, as I should.”
Exhausted. That’s what I was. And still these thoughts forced me to keep going. I was running as fast as I possibly could. Running towards a life where I would become happy. If only I could just do this and that, then I would become … well … perfect!
Why Introverts Are Prone to Perfectionism
For the past 10 years, I have slowly but steadily built up a person in my head who I wanted to be. An ideal that I would try to reach, because if only I could be that person one day, I would finally be happy. I would do the right things, read the right books, and finally be at peace with myself.
But in order to accomplish this, there were so many things that I needed to achieve. I needed to get an education. I needed to be really good at whatever I decided to study. Not to mention, as an introvert, I needed to be more outgoing and social. Of course, I couldn’t run from who I was, so it also meant reading books. And watching movies. Listening to music. Writing. If I started watching or reading a series, I had to finish the entire series. It didn’t matter if I liked it or not, I just had to finish it. You can’t start something and not finish it. If you do that, you fail.
There’s one word for this mindset: perfectionism.
Perfectionism and introversion are not an uncommon match. Introverts have a tendency to overthink, turning every aspect of an idea over and over in their minds. We have the ability to concentrate deeply, and therefore, we may spend more time than extroverts trying to perfect our ideas.
In my situation, introversion wasn’t the only thing that made me prone to being a perfectionist. I’m an INFP personality type, and INFPs are famous for their idealism. (What’s your personality type? We recommend this free personality test.) We have ideals about how we should be – or how the world should be – in order to be perfect. Usually the standards we set are very high, so in order to achieve them, we need to work hard. And when we fail and become disappointed, we may not adjust those ideals – no need to change them, they’re perfect. Instead, we work even harder to perfect ourselves.
Now don’t get me wrong, perfectionism is good in small doses. It’s what makes you reread your job application before handing it in. It’s what makes you clean your flat well before your parents come to visit. It makes sure you’re thorough and don’t make silly mistakes.
But perfectionism in big doses can be destructive. When I strived for the ideal in my mind, instead of becoming happy, I ended up feeling disappointed. That made me think I needed to push myself even more. So I kept on doing everything. All. The. Time! Even when I felt like I was getting too close to the edge of sanity, I completely ignored my physical and mental health and threw myself over it. If you don’t know what that feels like, it’s like being dragged under water, desperately but unsuccessfully trying to reach the surface for air.
Remember to Enjoy the Journey
I’m better today, particularly because I have wonderful friends, a supportive family, a very caring doctor, and an excellent therapist. But I’m still fighting fatigue and depression. In a recent conversation with my therapist, I figured out what went wrong for me: I overdid everything so much in my search for perfectionism that I had no chance of enjoying my day-to-day life. This is why the more I tried to be happy, the less happy I became.
That knowledge made something inside me fall into place. Instead of throwing myself into my studies with a curious and open mind, focusing on the fun stuff, I tried not to miss anything by studying everything, no matter how much my body told me it needed rest. Instead of taking in the story and enjoying the book I was reading, it ended up being a mathematical question of how many pages I should read a day. Even though I was tired and not in the mood to read the last 15 pages, I would press on, because I needed to read those 60 pages a day.
No surprise I started hating everything I used to enjoy. No surprise I was so worn out in the end. Because I always thought about what came next and what I had to catch up on so that I could reach the ideal in my head. I was running as fast as I could to reach my happiness instead of finding my happiness in the moment. I was simply not enjoying the journey.
That was a breakthrough for me. I shouldn’t let perfectionism continue to control me. So what if I miss out on one chapter in the curriculum? I bet that’s not going to make me fail, and I’ll probably learn it later anyway. Honestly, why rush to finish the book when I just want to reread a chapter, because it was so good? And, if a book series is really not that interesting, it’s okay to stop reading it before you are finished.
Perfectionism is good in small doses. But big doses that take over your life will end up breaking you down, bit by bit, telling you that you suck and are good for nothing. And that’s a lie. You are good for something. You are worthwhile!
Make sure to take it easy. Don’t run all the time trying to obtain something that is just out of reach. Listen to your body and mind. They give all sorts of signs when they’re having enough of it. Ultimately, remember to enjoy the journey. We only have this one life, so let’s make it worth it.
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Read this: 21 Undeniable Signs That You’re an Introvert
Learn more: The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, by Brené Brown
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