Top: Zara 1, Zara2| Skirt: Blaire Eadie X Nordstrom (old) Similar Here |Shoes: Alexander Wang and Here | Beret: Zara

Long Post Alert! “Perfection” it’s such a beautiful yet haunting word, all depends on how you were raised and who you are. To me, “perfection” is a word that comes with a lot of baggage, anxiety, disappointment and fear. It’s easy to call a perfectionist high maintenance, uptight and a raging control freak, I mean I know because I’ve been called all those things, and it’s gut wrenching to hear those things regardless how many years of therapy I’ve been in. Would you believe me if I tell you, being high maintenance, uptight and a raging control freak is a all a desperate attempt for a perfectionist to seek approval, please others, avoid failure and disappointment? I thought, maybe I can share my story, from a recovering perfectionist’s point of view. If you are a perfectionist, you can find comfort in the fact that someone else struggled the way you did and understands you. And if you are not, maybe it provides some insights so you could be a bit more compassionate towards the high maintenance, uptight, raging control freak in your life. 🙂

Top: Zara 1, Zara2| Skirt: Blaire Eadie X Nordstrom (old) Similar Here |Shoes: Alexander Wang and Here

{1}. When it all started. let’s just blame everything on our parents, isn’t that how therapy always starts? haha! totally kidding! But the high achieving Chinese culture, my upbringing, the environment that made me who I am is probably one of the most important factors in making me the perfectionist I never wanted to be. Growing up in China, it was burned into my brain for as long as I can remember that “there are 1.6 Billion people in China, I cannot fail, if I fail, I will not be able to go to college, if I don’t get into a top college and then get my graduate degree, my life will be over and I will forever be a failure and a disgrace to my family “. That kind of pressure was everywhere, it’s not just about going to college, it’s about being the perfect child in order to honor my family and my parents. I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. I have two very open minded, loving parents, but when you live in a high achieving culture where image and achievements is how you are being valued, you do the part to appear perfect. And more or less, I was that perfect child, because I was terrified of disappointing my family and make them look foolish in front of other people, I excelled in school, I followed all the rules, my grades were always the top 1%, I played the piano, I played tennis, I figure skated, I was polite, I always had the best clothes. My parents’ friends would scold their kids if they didn’t get good grades like I did, played the piano well like I did, dressed like I did, I was the benchmark of what a “good kid” is supposed to be …. Just thinking about that now, it still makes me cringe and my chest tightens like I am going to hyperventilate….I lived the last 30+ years of my life trying to please others, appearing perfect to others so I didn’t disappoint my family…. I didn’t live my life for myself… I had no idea what I really wanted out of life, what made me happy and what sparked joy in my heart. When I realized all of this because of therapy, I was like “shit! that sucks and now what?”

{2} My name is Angel Hou, I am a recovering perfectionist. what’s so bad about being a perfectionist, one may ask? and why do you meed to recover from that? In my case, being a perfectionist did seem to serve me well until I had Millie. Good career, good boyfriend, good closet, I really did appear to have my shit together, but what the underlying issues was that I only appeared that way because I avoided things that could result in failure or rejection. For example, I wanted to start blogging about 8 years ago, so I started planning the launch of my website and what I would blog about. I tried to think of every single scenario that could result in failure, and literally was overthinking to the point that I scared myself shitless and convinced that I was going to fail before I event started. I was convinced that my outfits would be too dull compared to the other established fashion bloggers, I wouldn’t be as great of a writer as them, and I would be too awkward in front of a camera…. the list went on and on. I thought if I couldn’t be the best at it, I simply cannot and should not do it. How silly is that train of thought! The problem with a high achieving culture like in China, is that there is a lack of discussion and education on how to learn and pick yourself back up after failure. It has always been “if you don’t achieve greatness the first time around, that simply means you are not good enough” and you have failed indefinitely and someone better than you will probably do it right the first time. So there I was, giving up on a dream, because if there was a risk of me not appearing “perfect” and succeed the first time, I simply was too afraid to pursue it. When I really thought about it, I gave up on a lot of things I enjoyed doing, because I was too busy trying to be the best and appearing to be “perfect”. Piano, Tennis, figure skating, I ended up stop practicing all of them, because at one point or another, I felt like I was losing control over whether I can be the best at them or not, so the only thing I can control is to shut them out and stop doing them, I thought “If I quit, there will be no chance of me failing and looking foolish”, somehow that gave me a sense of control and put me in the safe zone of never failing. Well… the problem with that is that I missed out on things I enjoyed doing as well and never really knew how much true potential I really had if I learned from my mistakes and failures and stuck with them.

{3} The turning point. They say that having a child changes you for the better, I will always agree to disagree. I don’t think anyone, even your own flesh and blood can make you better unless you are the one who wants to better yourself. What I will say is that Millie is the accelerant in my own self discovery and recovery journey. Her whole 6 pounds 13 ounces came in to my “perfect” world like a poopy wrecking ball and wrecked my delusional perfectionist’s imagination. I thought, being a perfectionist, all the hard stuff I read about being a new mom didn’t apply to me. I thought I was going to snap back into pre baby shape in 8 weeks, I was going back to work in 3 months like the other successful working moms did, and my perfect newborn child and I would look regal in our matching outfits when we went for our fancy afternoon tea. Oh boy, I had no idea the shit storm that’s about to hit me, literally and figuratively. For starters, there is no being perfect when you are taking care of a baby! You won’t shower for days, you will look like complete shit and you will probably smell like shit , get baby shit on your hands and sometimes on your face, your child will scream in a perfectly quiet restaurant, your body most likely won’t snap back to pre-baby shape in 8 weeks like those victoria’s secrect models, and if you had a natural birth, your lady bits will never ever be the same ever again. Millie and I did NOT have high tea in our matching outfits until she was a year old. I barely left the house for months because nothing in my world was perfect anymore according to my perfectionist’s mind. And while the perfectionist in me was panicking, postpartum depression (stayed tuned for another post for this topic) snuck up on me, and I reached my breaking point. I feel like I was disappointing everyone around me and most importantly, I was disappointing Millie, because I was not the perfect mom that she deserved. I felt like a complete fraud. The once shining star of a human being that my family thought I was, completely crumbled. In my mind, I was never supposed to fail, so I had no idea how to build myself up from the pile of failure and disappointment I had for myself. Slowly I lost interest in almost everything I used to love, and my perfectionism fueled the deterioration of my mental health, and I fell into a deep postpartum depression and thought this was it, I would remain a complete failure as a mom and as a human being… That’s when I realized how debilitating being a perfectionist really is, especially when your mental health is not at the best state. So I reached out to my therapist and started the healing process, and learning how to recover from being a perfectionist.

{4}. What do Instagram and blogging have to do with it? It sounds counter intuitive to dive into a new venture that’s almost entirely built on appearing to be “perfect”. The instagram world is filled with perfect images of perfect people with perfect bodies living their perfect lives. It’s true, instagram and blogging to a perfectionist almost could seem like a well stocked bar to an alcoholic. But to me, instagram and blogging is therapeutic. You might’ve noticed that most of my pictures are curated, taken by my favorite photographer and dear friend Hannah. I do mix in iPhone shots of Millie and I, but I keep at least 70 – 80% of my posts with professional photography. I know to some that seems “not real” or “staged”, but the true reason I create these type of content is because I genuinely love photography, wardrobe styling and photo editing. It helps me express myself in a way that I couldn’t otherwise, more importantly it’s a major improvement I made in recovering from perfectionism. I was terrified to get in front of the camera with the clothes I styled for myself, because I was always worried about if it would appear perfect, the criticism I would receive, as well as disappointing people who had high expectation of the content I would create. So putting myself in front of a camera is a challenge for myself, to stop being a perfectionist, taking a huge risk and accepting and digesting both constructive and destructive criticism that would come with posting my work, exposing myself and being completely vulnerable. Shooting on location also teaches me to go with the flow, and stop stressing about the small stuff, something that was very difficult for me, the perfectionist. First of all, we have no control over Mother Nature, there were many times we had to change locations last minute because of weather conditions. Secondly, Our shoots usually last about an hour, I want to be as productive as possible, so I usually have four outfit changes in one shoot, the pitfall of packing four different outfits and matching accessories is that you forget things, occasionally I would forget to bring an important piece of the outfit, but Hannah and I made it work with what we got, and to my surprise, those imperfect circumstances sometimes produced some of the best images. Mostly likely, it was because I was truly there to enjoy the moments and embrace the imperfections. That sort of positive and go with the flow sentiments show through the lens. Thirdly, when I post my work, I have no control of how well it will perform, sometimes my favorite images didn’t do as well as I had hoped. The perfectionist in me freaked out over it and immediately had the feeling of defeat and disappointment, all I wanted to do is to quit and never post another image again. I still struggle with this every single day, but I now have a way to cope with it, I wrote down a quote from Confucius “It does not matter how slowly you go, as long as you do not stop” I repeat this quote along with “I didn’t create content for the likes, I do it for my myself and my passion, just keep creating” every single day until my anxiety subsides. I also force myself to give myself some grace and recognize that I did the best I could at that moment, and that’s all that matters. Last but not least, I shift my attention to growth vs failure, if I truly think the content I created fell short, I do not fixate on how I failed, instead, I focus on solution and growth, I asked myself and my mentors what went wrong and what I could do differently going forward. This simple shift from the “fixed” mindset to “growth” mindset has helped me tremendously in curbing my perfectionist breakdowns, and in staying positive and consistent.

If you made it this far and put up with this extremely long post, you and I should probably be best friends if we aren’t already! 😉 I hope this post can be helpful to someone who struggles with perfectionism like I do, the recovery is a struggle, but you are not alone! I also hope this post helps my readers and followers like you to get to know me on a deeper level, and understand better the imperfect but real woman behind those curated images. Your support means the world to me. Thank you so much for spending time with me!

Much Love,

Angel

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