Fashion, Life

When perfectionism becomes a problem

Jeans, tee and gingham trench

There’s something that’s been in the back of my mind with a little ‘write about this’ label on it for a while, but I’ve been putting it off pretty much since I started this blog because I was worried about not being capable of doing it well.

There’s painful irony in that once you read the rest of this post, so here it is; I am a perfectionist. That’s not just ‘oh I’m a bit of a perfectionist so I want to do everything brilliantly’, and it’s not a little humble brag either. Instead it’s a constant internal battle – because I am someone who lets their desire for impossible standards and the fear of failing to get anywhere near those standards dictate absolutely everything they do (and perhaps more importantly, everything they don’t do as well).

Because saying that I am a perfectionist is not to say that I think my work is just wonderful and fantastic and don’t you wish you could do everything as well as me? That actually couldn’t be further from the truth, and there, I’m afraid, lies the problem, because perfectionism affects me in a number of ways, and very few of them involve doing great things.

Gingham trench coat and jeansGingham trench topshop

For a start, nothing is ever good enough – and nothing is ever complete either. I struggle to remember a time I have considered a piece of work ‘done’; it may be handed in or published due to work or self-imposed deadlines, but it’s never accompanied with a feeling of pride, relief or even conclusion. Instead, it comes with a ‘if I’d just spent another hour’ or ‘I’ll go back and improve this later, I just need to get a post out today’, because there is no piece of work that I have ever done that doesn’t need vast improvement. This means that I am never proud of my work, and because of that I have this desperate need to ensure that no one thinks that I’m under the illusion that it’s good, so I will try to excuse it for it’s undoubtedly disappointing standard before anyone has so much as looked at it.

I leave everything until the last minute. Procrastination isn’t always laziness; sometimes it’s perfectionism in disguise. I put off starting things repeatedly because I’m so worried about not doing it well enough that it feels better to avoid a task than risk not doing a good job of it. I struggle to write posts for Sophar So Good ahead of time, partly because even if I started them early I wouldn’t consider them ‘done’, and partly because I put off starting them in favour of the easy, tedious tasks like scheduling tweets which don’t allow me to disappoint myself with my own poor attempts at writing. If I have an important project to be doing at work, I wait until the last possible moment that allows me to still get it done to start a marketing plan or write a piece of copy, which doesn’t help with the ‘if I’d just had another hour’ thing, and I’m left kicking myself.

Ways to style a gingham trench coatStyling a gingham trench coat

I can’t throw around half baked ideas, or show people things I’m working on if they aren’t complete. I avoid offering suggestions on the fly because the idea of putting out something that isn’t fully formed and therefore might be bad is about as appealing as eating a live slug. It’s a terrible thing to admit, but it also means that when I read other people’s work or see them freely offering up suggestions that aren’t up to scratch, I find it difficult to understand how they could possibly have been happy to share anything which isn’t of a high standard. Simultaneously though, I find it admirable that they weren’t afraid to share and truly envy that they felt free to express it anyway, because I know it’s a better way to be.

There are a thousand ways that perfectionism controls me, but they nearly all involve a struggle to just do things sincerely, freely and with faith in myself, and that makes me think frequently about how at odds with each other creativity and perfectionism can be. I think that perhaps I should choose the least creative occupation I can find, so that there can be right or wrong and less grey area in between. Right is success, wrong is failure. Creativity brings subjectivity, and you can never have complete perfection when things are subjective. I wonder whether I should just sack off all creativity altogether because for me it brings out a mindset which makes doing things that I love a struggle.

That’s not me saying I am going to stop though – because I’m coming to realise that the thing that’s holding me back more than any other is perfectionism itself. Fear of not being good enough prevents me from trying my best and sometimes from even trying at all; and it’s because the prospect of reaching my full potential and it not being enough is quite a crippling thought. It’s not that I haven’t ever worked hard – I do work hard, but really really trying? It’s easier, and allows me a defence, not to. That way I can comfort myself with ‘yeah I didn’t do that, I didn’t even try in the end’ rather than having to accept that ‘well, I tried my very best, but it didn’t happen this time’.

White tee and gingham trenchGingham jacketHow to style a gingham duster coat

I know that everyone has experienced fear of failure, fear of not being good enough, and wanting to get something just right – we’re only human, and those are very human things to feel. But I’ve only realised recently that perfectionism is a thing, rather than just a thing, and it’s explained a lot, because there have definitely been times that I’ve thought that maybe I’m a bit mad or maybe I really am just incredibly useless (still probably the case, I am typing this at 10:18am when I intend to publish it at 10:30am after all).

So I’m finally addressing my issues with perfectionism on here; not because I now feel like I can do a perfect job of it (I’ve just read this back and my oh my that’s certainly not true is it, what a load of self-indulgent garbage), but because I think that, like many things that go on in our silly but incredible brains, acknowledgement is the first step.

I’m trying to accept the fact that perfect is an abstraction, impossible to define or achieve in real life. The standards I’m measuring myself up against aren’t actually attainable, and it’s not just because of my own laughably average ability, it’s because they don’t exist. I expect it’s something I will write more about in the future and hopefully in a more positive way as I go about addressing it, because I think that it will help me to understand and because I’ve got so much to say. For now though, I think just realising that this is something that I need to address and acknowledging the effect that it has had and continues to have on me is enough – which is exactly what this blog post was for.

And I know it’s not perfect, but that’s probably okay.

How to wear a gingham trenchGingham trench and white teeGingham duster coat and jeansTopshop gingham trenchProblems of a perfectionistThe problem with perfectionismTrench – Topshop | Tee – Zara | Jeans – New Look (Can’t find them online but they’re the Tori style) | Mules – M&S | Bag – Parfois | Earrings – H&M | Sunnies – Primark

Photos: Rob Poor

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17 thoughts on “When perfectionism becomes a problem”

  1. This was a good post. Opening up about this topic really shows that you know, we are human and we all have our things we need to work on. It sucks that you struggle with perfectionism, and I really hope it gets better for you. I think all of your content is great, and you do a really great job at the work you do. And nothing can ever be perfect, we can only try so hard. And it’s okay to not be perfect girl.


  2. I relate to this so much! Actually something I discuss with my therapist a lot, because I only see the world in black and white – something perfect or not perfect. Anything not perfect is somehow not worth having in my mind, which causes a lot of problems as you can imagine. The first step is definitely awareness and the second I think is compassion for yourself and the understanding that life is a mixed bag!


  3. Hi Sophie,
    I’m not really sure what I want to comment – but cracking post! It’s not self indulgent – I think many people will resonate. I do in ways.
    I wish for perfection, but I too sometimes wish to crack on and if that can’t be perfect that’s OK. I don’t ever feel that “not complete” feel you write of, that sounds pretty shitty to be fair, can you let go of some of that feeling so you can at least feel pride in it’s place, or if not pride, at least accomplishment?

    Holly xxx ///


  4. I can definitely relate to this post, I am perfectionist as well and it can be really hard and exhausting. What I struggle most with is the fear of failure – I find it very difficult to forgive myself if I make a mistake. Uni has been quite a challenge in that way because essay marks can be quite subjective and it’s just impossible to get a first in everything. What’s helping me is treating myself how I would treat a friend e.g. think about whether I would forgive a friend for doing a specific mistake. Acknowledging your perfectionism is definitely the first step and I’m sure that there is indeed a positive side to perfectionism – yes, it’s very exhausting but it also means I’m very disciplined and since I’m a perfectionist when it comes to friendships I’m also really good at keeping in touch with all my friends. Oh and what you mentioned about purposely not trying as hard as you can is a bias that’s called ‘self-handicapping’ in psychological literature, in case you’re interested xx


  5. This was such an interesting read! Your content is always AMAZING! But when you read a post by any blogger you sometimes forget how much effort and thought and time goes into a post. Being a blogger myself I should know that but it somehow slips the mind, this bought it back to reality. So beautifully written and so beautifully true. I too struggle from the pressure I put on myself so I can TOTALLY relate girlie! Keep going, but try not to put so much pressure on yourself. You’re amazing – just remember that babe!

    xxx Imogen


  6. I swear we are so similar, you could be describing me here. I don’t think I’ve ever felt proud of a piece of work I’ve done, I’ve always felt that it could have been improved and it’s such a constant internal struggle isn’t it?! I totally get what you mean about subjectivity too – I sometimes find myself wishing I’d taken a completely different path in life and gone on to do a degree in something like maths where I could either be right or wrong and that’s it. The subjectivity of creativity (nice little rhyme there) has always driven me mad yet for some reason that’s what I’m drawn to. On a lighter note you look amazing here, that trench really is a beaut!
    Amy xx


  7. Creativity and perfectionism are so at odds with one another- you’re so right! It does control what you do, and I’m really the same way. I’ve been working on just letting myself be free, not getting so caught up in the small details. You look beautiful in these photos, especially that plaid jacket. I wish you all the best in working on this, you’re definitely not alone! xx


  8. can i just say that you look just amazing? you are glowing and your coat with the earrings is such a beautiful combo. i’m such a perfectionist and always feel like i’m not doing enough and last april it got so ad as i wanted to perfect with uni work and i was actually really close to burning myself out. i really have to learn to leave it sometimes and just breathe.


  9. Wow I was nearly in tears reading this post because it was so true and relatable to me. Being a perfectionist makes life so hard. Nothing is ever good enough and it even hurts my relationships with my loved ones because I hold them to such a high standard that they consider ridiculous and unachievable (they are right). Thanks for sharing this!

    Simply Lovebirds


  10. Everything you wrote in the last part is basically what I wanted to say. I can imagine being a total perfectionist is really hard and time-consuming, but the fact that you realized what your problem is should make things easier from now on. I would suggest just focusing on great comments, support you get from all around and believe that those people aren’t lying. They appreciate your work/everything you do and maybe not everything is perfect to you, but to someone else it may be the best thing ever. Although I butchered this comment, I really hope you’ll get the idea and you’ll stop being so hard on yourself 🙂

    xo Honey – blog Royal LifestyleTwitterInstagram


  11. Oh girl, that’s a real struggle right here, you were able to explain it so well! I used to be a true perfectionist, until I realised I was missing out on so many things for trying so hard to become an ideal of perfection I had in my mind. The standards you measure yourself against are not really the standards of perfection, because perfection is also subjective in a way. The things that you consider perfect might not be considered as such by another person! As a fellow blogger often mentions, progression is better than perfection. So let your hair loose, beautiful Sophie and you will soon realise that doing things half way doesn’t actually feel that bad… Much love from sunny Spain! Xx

    Saida | She talks Glam


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