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Divorcing Perfectionism

Aug 31, 2022

“Little Miss Perfect” was my nickname given to me in 5th grade.  This pseudonym was derived from my dominant trait of perfectionism, which has served me well in life, propelling me through the rigors of becoming a physician. However, it seems this perfectionist identity has turned out to also be a driving force of self-doubt and shame. Which is why I have chosen to divorce perfectionism.


Perfectionism can be defined as “a disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable”. Who actually decides what the standard of “perfection” is? Many times it is the beliefs passed down to us from families of origin. Religious tenets can offer moral standards that are to be reached. Social norms pressure people to look a certain way or do certain things, but even these “normal” behaviors are different from one culture to the next. The goal of perfection can end up being a constantly moving target.  Any minor setback to reaching this unattainable goal can lead to regarding oneself as a failure and not worthy of anything that has been accomplished up to that point.  For many perfectionists (and as physicians, many of us are perfectionists), we would much rather consider ourselves failures over admitting that we might be....imperfect humans. 


Yes, it is true. Physicians are human. We are not perfect. We are very much imperfect. We make mistakes, just like everyone else. While our knowledge base on science and the human body may be wider than others, we do not know everything about everything. We do not have our shit together all of the time. The white coat does not come with the ability to do no wrong, only the intent to do no harm. Perfectionism in a physician can be beneficial to upholding a high standard of care. However,  when life happens and outcomes don’t go as planned, the perfectionist physician bears a tremendous burden of failure, self-doubt and shame that can end up being emotionally crippling and even career-ending. 


When I say I choose to divorce perfectionism, what I mean is I am making a conscious effort to let go of the idea that perfection can be obtained.  For me, the “perfect” life included marriage, kids, a successful career, peace and happiness, rainbows and daisies.  Eight years ago, I got a divorce- failure #1 marriage.  I had my two kids, but now I only had them part-time (aka 50/50 for those familiar with parenting plans)- failure #2 mother. Then I became burned out in my career that I worked so hard and spent years of dedication - failure #3 career.  I definitely was not feeling peace or happiness...failure #4 and #5. 


The end of my marriage seemingly incited a string of failures, which brought on intense shame that I was failing in every aspect of my life.  This shame is not uncommon to feel when going through a divorce, burnout, or parenting struggles. My previous expectation that everything should be perfect all of the time set me up for disappointment and resentment.  In retrospect, my divorce from my ex actually began my journey to divorcing perfectionism because I finally started to deal with the fact that I was imperfect.  I began learning to embrace my imperfection. I learned to appreciate that everything I thought had gone wrong had actually gone right in order to start me on a path to becoming the best version of myself. 


 Getting a divorce also led me to becoming an even better physician and mother. The divorce led me on a path of self-discovery and awareness through life coaching that I likely would not have experienced otherwise. The imperfect version of me is continuously practicing and working to become the best version of myself, not the perfect version.   Maybe I will call this “acception-ism” (not a word, just made it up). What I mean is that I will accept what is and who I am in all of the imperfection. I will strive to keep moving forward, not to attain perfection, but to embrace and learn to love the imperfect.

Maybe now I can change my nickname to “Little Miss Imperfect”.


Schedule a free Next Steps Call with Dr. Stef (me!) to help you get out of shame & self-doubt so that you can feel good about yourself during your divorce.

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