How to let go of perfection

Discover how to let go of perfection and realise when your best is good enough.


Let go of the need for perfection

A major source of stress for many women is the quest to achieve perfection – though you might not realise you’re succumbing to it. ‘Despite juggling many plates, you might tell yourself that you have to do everything perfectly and thus can end up feeling that you never do anything well enough,’ explains Hilary Sims. The antidote is learning to accept that your best is good enough.

How? Dismantling the ‘be perfect’ drivers that many of us have internalised is key. ‘This is one of the drivers that we learn from our parents at a very young age,’ Sims explains. ‘Doing your best should be good enough but sometimes the messages you’ve absorbed can lead you to think that if you don’t perform perfectly, you’re not doing well enough.’

She recommends these steps for dealing with a ‘be perfect’ driver:

  • Practice giving self-gratification instead of always relying on others to tell you that you’ve done a good job.
  • Learn to champion what you have achieved rather than focusing on what you haven’t ticked off your to-do list.
  • Recognise when you’ve done your best and don’t need to do any more. It’s about learning to be proud of yourself for the person you are, not the person you are trying to become.

Think back to a time when you took home a school test result. Maybe you got a great grade but your parent might have pointed out that you’d have got a better mark if you’d revised more. ‘The parent is focussing on what you haven’t achieved, rather than what you have,’ says Sims. ‘This can lead us to believe that what we’ve done is not good enough and in our next test, we might put more pressure on ourselves to achieve more. When, in fact, we can only ever do our best.’

Those ‘be perfect’ drivers can show up in adulthood too. If you’re juggling domestic commitments with work, you might feel that you’re not doing any of your ‘jobs’ properly. That can lead to feeling guilty if you take time for yourself, even though looking after yourself boosts your capacity to handle stress, says Sims. 

Your best is good enough

Stress can escalate quickly for women in the sandwich generation years, caring for kids and ageing parents simultaneously. How can we navigate these busy years without succumbing to the extra stresses they can bring?

‘No one is expecting you to be Wonder Woman,’ adds Sims. And yet we often expect that of ourselves. She recommends learning to recognise when things have got too much. If your plate feels full, acknowledge it.

‘Make a list of things you need to do and see what support you can get to do them differently. Tell the family which bits are causing you more stress and ask for help. If you don’t manage to clean everything or complete all your tasks in one week, spread them out over a number of weeks. And remember if people come to visit your home, they come to see you, not which jobs you have or haven’t done.’

Accepting that your best is good enough is vital. For me, this meant lowering my expectations of myself. In this season of grief and readjustment, I can’t achieve as much as I once could. So I’ve chosen to let go of some things in order to cultivate a less stressful life.

I’ve outsourced the things I can. I’ve swapped the gym for a slow daily lunchtime stroll and I listen to an audio book while walking since I’m too knackered for a book a bedtime but miss the stress-relief of reading.

Above all, I rest before I feel worn out. I sometimes de-prioritise folding laundry and put my feet up instead. It takes practice to continually spend time on things that reduce stress or which increase your capacity to handle it – especially if you’ve grown up feeling pressure to prove that you can have it all.

But dropping balls, I’ve learned, is the secret to a less stressful life. It turns out they don’t all smash – the thing is to work out which balls are the ones that bounce.