Sunday, 9 August 2015

Striving for perfection

I have been called a 'perfectionist' more than once during my time. I'm an all-or-nothing thinker. That's just the way it's always been. I've always pushed myself to the limit - especially academically.

For me, to be perfect I need to reach the highest goal academically possible and have an amazing career; I need to be liked by everyone I meet; I need to look as good as I possibly can.

Even from a young age I've had to be 'perfect' in every way - at school, at home, around others. And I would berate myself for anything that wasn't good enough, like if I made one stupid spelling mistake or had a tiny argument with a friend.

I remember being about 11 years old and just stood there pinching my non-existent flab on my stomach, hating myself for having wide hips when all the other girls my age were still so skinny. I wasn't what I thought was the 'perfect' shape. That stayed with me all through my teens (and probably still now, if I'm honest).

Every Friday at primary school we had to do a 100 square timestable, and were supposed to complete it as quickly as possible. I couldn't bear it if I didn't beat last week's time. We also had a diary that we had to fill in how many books we had read, and I had to fill that up and more by the end of the year.

In 2009 I picked up my GCSE results, and oh how disappointed I was in them. I achieved 9 A*'s and 2 A's, and I just could not get my mind off why I didn't get A*'s for English and English Literature. I didn't even really celebrate my results because I was too busy beating myself up about a few little marks. More recently, I received a merit for a piece of work at university, and was so disappointed that it wasn't a distinction that I felt depressed for the rest of the day.

Sometimes I think one of the reasons that I wanted to do Medicine so much was so that I could prove to myself that I was good enough for it. It seemed like the best career possible for myself, and I needed to do it to show myself that I could. That I was 'perfect' enough to have a medical career.

Even with this blog, it's never quite good enough for me. I compare myself to other bloggers and hate that my photography isn't as good, or that I don't have anything half as interesting to say. I feel like I need to be constantly interesting on social media or come up with new and innovative posts that will keep people coming back. And thinking about that all the time becomes exhausting. When one little thing is out of place on my posts, like a photo being misaligned, I become slightly obsessed with it until it is sorted. I spent hours on holiday writing posts as the iPad made it so ridiculously hard to get everything perfect. The truth is, I set up this blog to help my mental health, but occasionally it holds me back because of all the worrying about whether it is good enough or not.

I'm not naturally a competitive person. It's never jealousy of how much other people have achieved - it's more putting myself down for what I haven't achieved.

Why am I so focussed on being this perfect person all the time? I know that I have achieved fantastic results and I have amazing people around me. I guess a psychologist could psycho-analyse me and come up with a reason for my perfectionism, but for me it's just the way that I've always been - scared of failing and being anything less than the best I can be.

This year I have been really working on myself, and I want to stop beating myself up for things that are probably out of my control, or too difficult for me to achieve at that moment in time. I need to start looking at the bigger picture, at the things I have accomplished, and let myself be me. Perfectionism ruins self-confidence when a goal is not attained, and is probably part of the many complicated reasons that I suffer with depression.

Nobody is perfect - what even is perfect anyway? If, like me, you're also a perfectionist, give yourself some slack and stop stressing yourself out unnecessarily. Look at the things that you have done well so far, and focus on some more achievable targets, congratulating yourself when you hit them. You don't have to have a good job, loads of people around you, lots of money, a good body, to be a good person. And at the end of the day that is how you will be remembered - as a good person. And you don't have to be perfect to be one - 'perfect' does not exist.
It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.
                 - E.E. Cummings


  1. Amazing post Hannah - I think many people, especially medical students, will relate to this. I think it's a shame more medical students don't speak out about being insecure or mental health issues because then there would be less pressure to always have it all together.

    Kate xx
    The Medic Journal

  2. This is such a honest post. Firstly - your blog is excellent just the way it is. It's definitely one of the ones I try to keep up to date with, so for me at least your posts are interesting!
    I'm not much of a perfectionist and I think that is probably what helps me in dealing with pressure, although I do sometimes wish I was a little bit more of a perfectionist and was motivated to push myself a little further. Medical school has a lot of people with very perfectionist traits and I actually struggle with this from time to time - I question whether I should be working harder, setting my goals higher etc. But at the end of the day, we all work differently and are motivated in different ways. So long as we all know when enough is enough for our own mental health and resilience, that's fine.
    Jennifer x
    Ginevrella | Lifestyle Blog