Juliette Dudley reflects on the pressures of perfectionism and how to tackle them from within.
I love making resolutions. As someone who is invested in my own personal development and wellbeing, this is something I really enjoy as a way of loving and becoming my best self. I use goals daily, as it helps me stay on track with where I want to be, which is in a place where I can find peace and actively practise love and self-acceptance.
Like many since the start of the pandemic, I could no longer ignore the mental health issues I had and that loomed over my day like a dark cloud. Being diagnosed with severe anxiety, depression and PTSD, it seemed like my whole body and mind was working against myself, each affliction triggering another. Celebrating my 21st birthday nearly two months ago, a milestone I wasn’t sure I would see, was such an emotional experience for me. I was here. I am alive. Alongside talking therapies, coaching and mentoring, my driving force was my goal setting. If I felt like there was an end game and a structure, that made getting out of bed so much easier.
Being able to envision where I wanted my life to go made it possible for me to make the right changes. My biggest issue related to university was my perfectionist nature which had been burgeoning since early childhood. By creating goals that were as simple as making sure I scheduled enough time to write the essay, actively contributing in class and outside of class, I felt my mindset change. It wasn’t about getting a First or being the most fluent in speaking classes, it was about my attitude and my zest for life.
I came to university to pursue my passion of speaking languages and connecting other cultures together, and I was finally able to connect with my desire by rejecting the superficial goals that didn’t make me happy. Aiming for best grades means truly nothing. In fact, what is “the best”? I switched my own definition to a more contextual-based target. Doing my best is being my authentic self and enjoying reading about the Spanish Civil War and creating pretty grammar notes with pastel pens. Just by turning my own deeply rooted mindset into a healthier and more enjoyable outlook on life, my internal narrative changed and connected to my higher self.
I’ve been an overachiever and perfectionist ever since I can remember, rooted in being a people pleaser at heart. The biggest mistake I used to make was constantly moving the goal post, and by this I mean regularly changing what was expected of me, making perfection increasingly harder to reach. I’m sure many of us can relate to the soul crushing pain we feel in our chests when the essay we submit gets a 69, not a 70. And then, once we cross the First Class grade boundary, suddenly a 71 doesn’t compare to an 85, even though they mean the exact same thing. This mentality that you always need to be doing, always need to be producing and doing better was my weakness.
For me, the best way I’ve found to tackle the inner perfectionist critic, is by questioning it and counterating it with compassion. I used to set goals based on the expectations of others, focusing on an outward approach. This year I’ve taken on a challenge to battle my perfectionism; in six months time, I will love myself fully and practise regular self-appreciation and look inward for validation. I’ve found this incredibly challenging and at times shocking when the reality hits of how often I would put myself down and feel like a failure when I was just “good enough”.
By working towards loving myself unequivocally, my goals have been much more process focused, instead of outcomes and destinations. Changing my mindset was tough, but I did it by questioning my motivations. I’m currently in my Erasmus year and of course, the ultimate goal would be to have a big group of lifelong friends. I felt this enormous pressure during my first placement in Spain but here in Portugal I’m going down a different path. I’ve blocked out the external idealistic thinking and now I focus on enjoying myself and engaging in conversations with people from all over the world.
I’ve just started at a new university in Lisbon where all of my classes are taught in Portuguese, probably the most intimidating environment I have ever been in. However, the proof of my own personal development has really come through in the way I look at reality and avoid overextending myself. Old me would have wanted top grades and to understand everything that was going on in classes, but now I feel so much more at peace. The truth of the situation is that I haven’t spoken Portuguese in months, so why would I understand everything? I’ve just moved to another country, so why put added pressure on myself? This term I’ve set myself the goal of asking questions, which I have found to be the best way to engage my mind whilst keeping the inner critic at bay.
Do I think I will forever be a perfectionist? Honestly, I am not sure. I love my work ethic and commitment to success which has come from the pressure I used to crack under, but now it doesn’t rule me entirely. I celebrate all of my goal successes but without giving it power over me. It might seem easy for me to say that I love life and all the mistakes that come with it, especially when I sit writing this on my sunny balcony in beautiful Lisbon, but stopping to appreciate myself on a daily basis has truly transformed my life. I still challenge myself everyday to be my best self and take advantage of all the opportunities around me, but I’m easier on myself. Why make myself suffer more when life is hard enough as it is?