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High Standards Are Healthy, Perfectionism Is Not

High Standards Are Healthy, Perfectionism Is Not

When I was a gymnast, I wanted to win gold medals. When I was in film school, I wanted to win an Academy Award. When I was in my twenties, I wanted to be “hot” whatever that meant to whomever. Sometimes when I ride, I still catch myself wishing I could be the “best.”

So I have high standards. That has little to do with elements I control and a lot to do with other people’s ideas of “perfect”.

The irony of perfectionism is that the people who achieve it often find it’s lonely at the top. What we thought would bring us joy and self-worth can feel empty. During my decade-plus in the entertainment industry, specifically influencer marketing, I saw up-close that fame and fortune can be anything but perfect.

As I grew older, I realized that the people I admired judged me on my character, not how hot, rich, or accomplished I seemed. I realized that I gravitated toward people who listen well, anticipate the needs of others, and show leadership by giving. The people I admired didn’t get that way by obsessing about being perfect. Actually, there’s nothing more insufferable than a relentless perfectionist. As a lifelong perfectionist, that was quite a humbling epiphany.

“The irony of perfectionism is that the people who achieve it often find it’s lonely at the top.”

Is it possible for a perfectionist to reform?

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We can start by redefining perfection. The most brilliant moment in sports always include unexplainable circumstances that feel like magic. Seasoned producers say the same about movies. There’s no formula for making a classic. How can we aspire to control lightning in a bottle? All we can do is work hard, to the point of pushing beyond laziness, but never to the point of injuring ourselves or our horses.

It’s important to set high standards for work ethic, goals, and for marking milestones in our progress. That’s what makes competition so fulfilling. Competition is healthy, because it pushes us to be our best selves. It stops being healthy when we feel worthless if we don’t win.

To recalibrate, respect who you are today. You’ve worked hard to get here. Shift your aspirations from being the best to being a better leader in every area of your life, including the barn. The people who love us don’t expect us to be perfect, and if they do, they’re projecting their own insecurity. Our horses simply expect us to be compassionate caretakers and responsible leaders. If you’re checking all those boxes, you’re already perfect.

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