What is perfectionism?

QUESTION: Masters, I have struggled with perfectionism my entire life. I feel if I don’t do a great job on a task or I make multiple mistakes on something, then I have no value as a person. Any criticism on anything I do just burns me to the core. And I fear failure and ridicule as much as death. How do I overcome this? ~Matt, USA

ANSWER: You value the opinions of other people more than your own feelings. You were raised to believe in the ideas you fear. To see a different outcome to your day-to-day actions, you must change the beliefs you have about them. You lack confidence in yourself and cannot see what a fantastic person you really are, so you rely on the opinions of others. All you are aware of is a need to exceed what is humanly possible because someone thinks it might or should be so.

We would ask you what perfection is. Is it even obtainable by a typical human being? And who are the people who judge this perfection, particularly if they cannot reach it themselves? Perfectionism is an illusion because it constantly changes based upon who is doing the judging. You can see, then, how you are setting yourself an impossible task.

Your value as a person comes from your making the attempt with the attitude that you will do your best at whatever is in front of you. No one succeeds on a first try at something new. Babies fall all the time when trying to walk. Runners don’t go very fast until they have built up their stamina. Reading and mathematics were impossible until you learned the rules. Stop being so hard on yourself.

People who criticize others do it for two reasons: either to help someone see a different way around things, or to be nasty and spiteful out of jealousy. The things others say to you, or about you, can hurt you only if you allow them to. If you know you are putting in your best effort, then that is all you are capable of, and what others say is not based upon fact. You are not a miracle worker, so realize your limits and don’t let others claim you can do more. Ignore their unnecessary comments.

No one in human form is perfect. When you feel you are a failure, because you don’t consider yourself perfect, you are just kidding yourself. Doubts and fears are the signposts of life lessons on which you need to work.