Perfectionism: How to Break the Habit & Live Your Expat Life to the Fullest

Moving to a new country is challenging – for everyone. But perfectionists may have a more difficult time adapting. Relocation and personal development coach Jolanda Tetteroo discusses how perfectionism can stand in the way of living our expat life to the fullest, and what we can do about it.


“There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in”
From “Anthem” by singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen


As expats, we’re dealing with a lot of uncertainties and our familiar support structures are not within easy reach. Trying to organise our life to perfection is one way we may try to deal with the uncertainty. But expecting perfection from ourselves and others… well, it’s tough.


Signs of perfectionism

If you’re a perfectionist, the picture in your head may look something like this: you should be able to settle in quickly, get a job when your permit allows you to work, find the perfect school for your kids, and socialise, of course meeting lots of friends and making great connections. And maybe even try to learn the local language! (Or, wait, avoid learning the language… because what if you fail at it?)

Here are four signs that you are being a perfectionist:

  1. Being overly nervous about new things to learn or do – absolutely not helpful for an expat!
  2. Rather avoid starting than complete something that is not perfect, right?
  3. An obsession with rules. A sense of “this is how things must work”, or “I can’t do this because the rules say that…” (yet there are so many ways to do life!).
  4. Busy mind – which tells you all the time how to do things better, or has you comparing yourself with others you consider successful.

A growth mindset

If you tend towards perfectionism, you probably try to avoid making mistakes at all costs. Yet you may be deprive yourself of learning, because we learn so much from the mistakes we make (and everyone makes them). A growth mindset is not so much about results but about a process and your effort. It’s about your willingness to learn something, and to value that learning above any “mistakes” you may think you’ve made.

Nurturing a growth mindset helps you grow and embrace your imperfection (after all, nobody is perfect!). Having a growth mindset supports you to step out of your comfort zone – and to let go of a standard that could be harmful for you.


How to overcome perfectionism

As well as adopting a growth mindset, it is helpful to realise that the thoughts in your head are not who you really are. And they are also not telling the truth. You are enough, you do enough, and you can be kinder to yourself

Here are four tips to help you break the habit of perfectionism:

  1. Give yourself a break. Is it really necessary to do everything perfectly? Choose one thing every day that you will do until it’s “good enough” (not perfect!). This will help you to set more realistic goals and create a new habit that is more supportive of you.
  2. Practise gratitude. In the evening, before going to sleep, take time to be grateful for three good things that happened that day. This can be as simple as having coffee with a good friend, meeting a friendly stranger, or a job done. This helps you to focus on the positive aspects of your life and to appreciate all that you do
  3. Give that perfectionist voice in your head a name. And every time you hear the voice, you tell “XXX” to disappear. This way you place the critical thought outside yourself and minimize identifying with it.
  4. Understand why you set these high standards for yourself. Learn how to be gentler on yourself. Ask yourself what you are trying to prove and who you are trying to prove this to. You may like to keep a journal that explores this topic, or reach out to a coach or counsellor who can guide you through this.

Achieving excellence can be rewarding. Relentless perfectionism, however, is exhausting, because we are always striving and it becomes difficult to feel at peace with ourselves. When we shift our focus to how we are growing, rather than aiming to achieve perfection, we give ourselves permission to take risks, to try new things, to keep learning. We begin to see ourselves in this beautiful new light!


How does perfectionism show up in your life? What have you found helpful to become less of a perfectionist? Do share with the Expat Nest community! Feel free also to share this article with someone you love just as they are!

 PHOTO: Skitterphoto/Pixabay

About the author: Jolanda Tetteroo ran her own relocation agency for 15 years, guiding and coaching internationals moving to the Netherlands. Looking for a new challenge in her work life, she decided to pursue a coaching career. She now coaches Dutch and English speakers in personal development with a focus on rediscovering their true self.