The Validation Quest: Toxic Comparison, Measurement and Perfectionism
“Comparison is the thief of joy” - Teddy Roosevelt
I have always been a perfectionist, in every aspect of my life. Whether it be my overly competitive drive through sport, my raging OCD that keeps my room exquisitely clean or my people pleasing nature. I have always been one to try and get things as specific, in order, impressive and absolute as humanly possible. To keep people in a little trance that I have never put a foot wrong in my life and that I could never give anyone, ever, a reason to dislike me. I’ve realised however just how draining that is; how unfulfilling and unnatural an approach to life such as that is.
I can tell you honestly that I am a far cry from “perfect”; I have failed in so many aspects and I have made more mistakes and errors than I care to remember. My teenage years brought more trouble to my parents then every imaginable; I was determined to be a rebel, with the only cause to create as much chaos as humanly possible. I was determined to make life as difficult for my parents as I could: refusing to practice my music, coming close to spelling my name with my academic grades, chasing older girls way before I should have been aware of what flirting was and gaining professional status in the art of winding up my brothers. Middle child syndrome in it’s most classically, conventional form was embedded in my walls.
Although I am not creating the chaos that I used to, I am finally learning to let go; to stop caring so much and to start becoming confident in the fact that I am not, will never be and have never been perfect - and actually there is something incredibly liberating about that. That’s not me encouraging you to go and rebel against every rule in society, but some rules are made to be broken without anxiously worrying about the repercussions.
Every child growing up aspires to be like someone else; they see role models everywhere they go. It could be a parent, a celebrity, someone on the internet or a friend - but as fantastic as they may seem externally, everyone has got their own set of flaws and challenges. With a large following as I do, I could very easily create a facade of a perfect life; but I would rather tell you in that position, that I don't - I am also just another human.
The perfect lifestyle is depicted through many idealisms; a beautiful wife, financial freedom, lots of friends, a huge house in the country, regular travel around the world, the fastest car and so forth. But for everyone, the perfect lifestyle is different - and so perfect can be viewed in many forms. An introverted individual may view the perfect life through the windows of a quiet hut in Lombok, with surfing days, a dog and a peaceful life, compared to the extremes and extravaganzas of a wealthy woman living in a celebrity whirlwind. Perfection takes many forms, although there is never an end point to finally reach - and so instead of perfectionism, it’s an exhausting chase of an unconventional goal.
A quote that created a lightbulb moment for me read that “If outside validation is your only source of nourishment, you will hunger for the rest of your life”. We are continually throwing numbers to our name, looking for external validation and comparing our statistics to those in our society, when the most important opinion is that of ourselves.
What makes ignoring perfectionism more difficult, is that throughout our lives we have been measured; whether standing up against the wall where mum will put a ruler on top of your head to observe you’re height, the poorly performed Non Verbal Reasoning score attained at primary school, the number of times you’ve misbehaved compared to your siblings or the number of likes you’ve got on your recent photo. Why do you think so many people delete their social media posts when they don't receive the likes they'd hope for? We are continually put up against each other as a point of comparison to give perspective, to compete or to degrade, and always told that we should or could be doing more.
The first step in accepting that you’ll never be perfect is knowing that chasing perfection is not healthy. It’s unattainable. It doesn’t exist. Wishing you could be better, doubting your actions, setting overly high personal standards and trying to prove criticisms wrong just solidifies negative self perception and stress. Self appreciation, self acceptance and positive self talk is what is most important; be someone you like, you respect and are happy with - be true to yourself.
Squash your constant comparisons and give up trying to be perfect. Aspire to be the best version of yourself you can be; better than the person you were yesterday and the most courageous person you can be. Mistakes, errors and pitfalls are there to help you learn, mould and grow. Be honest in all that you do, reflect on the past in a empathetic manner and aspire for a more exciting future.
Robin Williams quote from Good Willing Hunting sheds some light on the topic when he tells Will “You’re not perfect sport, and let me save you the suspense, this girl you’ve met: she’s not perfect either. But the question is whether or not you’re perfect for each other.” One persons imperfections are another’s perfections, one mans strengths are another mans weaknesses. There are far too many people out there to impress, to get on your side and to expect acceptance from. So except yourself as you are, and wait for the right things to fall in place. You are exactly where you are meant to be.
I just wanted to end this little piece with a gentle bit of advice. Depression is an incredibly painful, isolating, numbing - there are not enough words to describe it’s awful nature; it is an unloving, unforgiving parasite in the mind. But if its taught me something, it is this: stop constantly looking in and analysing, look outward and try to just live. We spend so much time continually pitching ourselves up to others, questioning ourselves, doubting our capabilities and talking negatively. Stop looking in and stop comparing yourself- it’s good to have an internal critic, to want more and to strive for better results. But stop continually putting yourself down. Talk to yourself in difficult times as you would a dear friend in a struggle. Life is difficult and brutal enough as it is, so give yourself a chance within the walls of your mind.