Learning from Mistakes as a Perfectionist

I always thought that being a perfectionist was a good thing. Something creative. Something that made me constantly strive to be better and strive to be good at everything. Because, that’s what I wanted.

I needed to be good at everything. I needed to be front of the stage. I wanted to join the drama club. I wanted to carry on swimming after doing one badge just to get the next mile. I wanted to sign up to running races, even though I never went to practice, I’d still place. I needed to join cheerleading and then be the main flyer for the next competition.

It still carries on today to a certain degree.

I wanted to open a blog and make sure it was successful. So I tried and tried until the hits started becoming in the thousands instead of the tens. I needed to pass exams with an A even though outside of class I hadn’t studied. Everyone thought everything always came so easy.

And, it did to an extent.

It didn’t always take me long to have it click in my brain. Everything needs methodical steps and they’re predictable and timed. I knew when I should do the next thing to get the best results. I knew how to use the resources around me. I thrive on being applauded and being told I did well.

But one thing changed that. One thing broke the pattern.

Driving.

Everyone hears of the story of the car door being slammed and off you go to your room to sulk about that one bad driving lesson. But it wasn’t one. It was every one.

I’d pull up to the house, or a side street, and bang my fists to the wheel. Put my head on the wheel and just sob and sob. Hysterically crying to be quite honest.

I’d spend ages sitting in that car. Head on the steering wheel just wondering why I couldn’t do it. Why I, a dancer, cheerleader, swimmer, runner, couldn’t get the synchronisation and the movements to smoothly move a car.

Everybody else seemed to be doing it. Why couldn’t I?

I scrolled Facebook seeing more and more driving certifications and it felt further and further away.

I’m a high achiever. I know I am. I’m motivated by the pleasure of doing better than before. But once I can’t do something, once there’s a mistake, it’s not just a setback. It’s almost seen as evidence that I wasn’t doing good enough. The root of it? Wanting to constantly feel like everybody is applauding me.

walk along poniente beach benidorm all saints day

Nobody puts these feelings into me, except myself. I’d have been applauded whether or not I was first place. And when I couldn’t drive, people were always around me telling me not to give up and I’ll get there.

But I self criticised. I best myself up for it. I felt if it hadn’t happened yet, it never would.

I’m sure I exasperated everybody around me with learning to drive. Tantrums and negativity were my only modes when it was to do with driving. I’m sure people had the urge to just yell at me and tell me it’s a process and I’ll get there. But, they were patient with me.

I guess I’m the same with Spanish. I know I make mistakes and I hate it. I say the wrong verb form or in the wrong tense and I’ll think about it for weeks. I’d much rather say nothing in the hopes that somebody else sorts it and then I don’t make any errors. But then there’s the next problem, I hear their mistakes and know I wouldn’t have made the same one. Then, I think everybody is laughing at me for making a mistake. Catch 22.

I’d see my work finished and all I’d see were the errors or the little imperfections. I noticed what I’d change about myself in a picture. I hated failure and avoided it at all costs. Constructive criticism from teachers or coaches always felt like an attack rather than support.

I’m results driven. I want to be the best.

But what’s the worst thing that can happen when you make a mistake?

You learn from it? Good. You don’t make it again? Better.

I’m learning to accept that mistakes are okay. Finding tasks, like driving difficult, is fine. In fact, it’s more than that. Mistakes are a learning process. I tell my kids that they need to try and not worry about errors, but I have to practice what I preach. I’ve started accepting my mistakes because, at the end of the day, nobody is keeping count.

I know I speak good Spanish. Perfect? Not even close. But good Spanish. Conversation Spanish. Government documentation Spanish. Can exist everyday speaking in Spanish. Do I make mistakes? Yes. Do I make huge mistakes? No.

How often do you not do something in fear that you’ll get it wrong? Or you’ll fail?

I hope I keep making mistakes and I hope I keep learning from them.

And for anybody wondering. Before I moved to Spain I gave myself the ultimatum. Book a driving test a few days before I leave and hope for the best or put it off and maybe never drive again.

I took the first option.

And I passed. First time with 4 minors.

Passed driving test

There’s another thing that broke the pattern too. Yoga. Learning that you don’t DO yoga, you practice yoga. Learning that you don’t do exactly what the guide does. You make your own decisions and journey. It’s a slow process and nobody is good at it, per say. Sure. Some people can get their legs higher and more extended than mine, but I know my back bends much further than others. It’s about feeling good and turning up, not about hitting goals.

Being a perfectionist comes with its perks though. I am probably the most efficient person I know when it comes to work. I can type a million miles per second. I can produce high quality work much quicker than most other people I know and I know how to set ambitious goals, and reach them. I come up with creative ideas and spend hours making them perfect. I demand a lot on myself, but I come through. I meticulously plan trips right down to the second and I’m never late.

Give new things a go. And do it because you enjoy it. Accept the mistakes and keep moving forward.

L x

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Hola! I'm Lauren ("Loh - run") — A twenty-something, engaged, English girl living on the Costa Blanca, obsessed with travel, love and elephants.

4 thoughts on “Learning from Mistakes as a Perfectionist

  1. You are so right Lauren, we learn through our mistakes and carry on regardless! I was the same with driving and also learning shorthand when I was young but like you I strived for perfection! Passed my test and managed to do shorthand and could do 100 words per minute! I could sit in meetings and take down what everyone said and then type it up later! Never give up, if you want it, go for it! You have achieved so much in your young life! I applaud you xxxx

    Liked by 2 people

      1. It was hard at first but got there! Same with swimming, I had private lessons, when my instructor told me I was swimming on my own, I went under water and had a tantrum, again never gave up and went on to do my life saving badge and a 100 lengths relay swimming! I didn’t give up xxx🤩🤩🤩🤩🤩

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Mistakes are inevitable but it’s the attitude about them that’s important and you have the right one. In the book of Job, he said “instruct me and I will be silent; help me to understand my mistake” (Job 6:24). When we follow that example and strive to understand and learn we can only become better, not perfect, but better and that’s the goal. I believe perfection for all of us will come in the future, but that’s only with Jehovah God’s help. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

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