37 – Perfectionism and Childfree Latinas: The Ivy League School Dropout

Can we break the Latina cycle of perfectionism and disappointment? How being a childfree Latina means you’re already doing that!

Have you ever been crushed by the weight of expectations on you as a Latina or Latine? Carried the burden of striving for perfectionism, but not once felt the relief of attaining it (even if you did somehow manage to do everything perfectly)? Then you know how perfectionist tendencies in Latine culture can negatively impact our self-esteem.

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What started as an exploration of procrastination as a whole, focuses down on one special branch of the procrastination tree: perfectionism. Which has been literally bred into our DNA by our traditions. What if we could break the cycle?

Enjoy the story of my own dance with perfectionism, what felt like my biggest source of shame in college, and how I learned that failure is just a natural part of life. Plus we examine some input from ChatGPT on 5 ways to manage your own perfectionist tendencies.

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[00:00] Paulette: Buen día mi gente and welcome to La Vida Más Chévere, the place where childfree Spanglish-speaking Latines are inspired to find their , la confianza, to overcome some of the bullshit and toxicity in our culture. I’m your host, Paulette Erato.

[00:19] And today the bullshit and toxicity that we are looking at is called perfectionism. After wrapping up the interview with Pam Covarrubias last episode, I wanted to continue exploring procrastination, especially as it affects us childfree Latinas y Latines.

[00:36] So I took the lazy, uh, I mean effective route and asked Chat GPT to give me a list of common challenges for Latinos and procrastination. What it spit back sent me down the rabbit hole of information that I’m gonna try my best to share with you, but I think I’m also gonna have to invite an actual psychologist or two onto the show to discuss this topic a lot deeper. Because I don’t have the answers for these types of deep issues.

[01:05] I am just a childfree Latina sitting here trying to live my best life and show you a model that is available for your life, too. That said, I am going to focus on our cultural addiction to perfectionism and how perfectionism is a mask for procrastination. In fact, I have an amiga, Tricia who is also childfree, but not exactly Latina although her stepdad is, who once said that perfectionism is just procrastination in fancy shoes.

[01:38] And in that moment I was like, oh wow. Cuz yup! So if we take the premise that our cultural normalization of perfectionism is one branch of this bigger tree that is procrastination, then let’s talk about perfectionism. So here’s what Chat GPT had to say about Latinos y perfeccionismo:

[02:01] Perfectionism is a common trait among many cultures, including Latino culture.

[02:06] It’s often associated with high expectations for achievement and success, which can be a positive motivator for individuals. However, when these expectations become unrealistic or unattainable, it can lead to negative consequences such as anxiety, stress, and procrastination.

[02:21] Ay. That’s so generic. So I did things the harder way and decided to Google this and came up with some more specific examples to back up this theory.

[02:33] What I first found was an article by Patricia Arboleda. She’s an executive and leadership coach that was just posted a few weeks ago, and it’s called Latinas Have Been Raised To Be Perfect – How To Break The Paradigm. I’ll leave you a link in the show notes if you wanna read the whole thing, but here’s the part I wanna read to you.

[02:52] “In many Latino families, perfectionism is seen as a virtue. Due to the story of their countries, they have a chip very encrusted in their minds that tells them they need to work harder than anyone to achieve something. While this drive to succeed can be seen as a positive trait, it can also lead to unhealthy behavior.

[03:10] Growing up, Latinas often learn to strive for excellence and never settle for less than their best. They do not only have to be the best students, be polite and behave, but they also need to sit like señoritas, dress well for every occasion. Be good daughters, good sisters, good mothers, please everyone, and not raise their voices.”

[03:29] Hello. Remember calladita culture? Hmm. I don’t know if you felt that like a punch in the gut too. But as a first gen Latina, y la uniqua hija the only daughter in my family, that describes my upbringing to a T. Here’s more:

[03:44] “In Latino culture, there may be cultural values and beliefs that contribute to perfectionism. For example, the importance of the family reputation, success, and honor may create pressure to achieve and perform well. Similarly, the influence of religion and spirituality in Latino culture may lead to a strong desire for moral purity and perfectionism.” Ugh.

[04:07] She also has a great Instagram account where she talks about this and a YouTube channel, so I’m gonna leave all those links in the show notes. If you remember from the last episode, Pam mentioned how she believes that culture is quote deeply rooted in the colonization of our faith and religion. Unquote.

[04:25] She then went on to describe how her grandmother would discourage any questioning whatsoever of her Catholicism, especially when Pam conflated La Virgen de Guadalupe with la Cōātlīcue. Even though she was 100% correct about that. And I’ll leave you a link in the show notes discussing the history behind the apparition of the Virgin Mary and the link to Cōātlīcue.

[04:49] I hope that none of this feels unfamiliar to you. I am assuming we all know the trope of the hardworking immigrants who want nothing but the best for their kids and in return demand that they do their absolute best, especially in school. So, are you ready for a story time? I’m gonna tell you about the time that I dropped out of school because the perfectionism proved to be too much.

[05:14] It was 1997. And I vividly remember how completely shattered I felt. Like my entire identity had been destroyed, the very first time I failed to test in college. In fact, I didn’t even fail. I just got a D. In a class that wasn’t even for my major. But I was completely unprepared for this scenario. Because I had never really failed at anything, much less at school. Are you kidding me? That wasn’t allowed!

[05:47] And in reality, I’d failed at a lot of things up to that point and would continue to do so over and over and over. But in that moment when I was 18 years old, in a strange environment with very few people who looked like me…

[06:02] You know, when Pam mentioned white people in our last episode and about how the Midwest has a different breed of white people than what she was accustomed to in California, I knew exactly what that meant. Cuz I had grown up around white people my whole life and still didn’t feel at ease with the ones I found on the East Coast.

[06:21] Side note, before we get too deep into this hole, this story does have a happy ending. I ultimately married an actual white guy from the Midwest, so I know they’re not all… what’s the word? Oh yeah, the word is racist.

[06:35] And look, I know white Latinos exist. That’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about the kind of white people that told Pam to go back to her country when she was at Walmart, or the dude in my freshman English class who wanted to argue that rap music had no value. Those kinds of white people.

[06:52] And I eventually realized that failure was just part of life and not an end point. To wrap up the story, I spiraled into a deep depression that persisted for several years. If you’ve ever heard me joke about being an Ivy League school dropout, this is why. I left Wharton after my freshman year and came home to a very upset father who just couldn’t, or wouldn’t, understand how I’d thrown away this great opportunity.

[07:24] And it was crushing.

[07:28] So I know exactly what that burden of perfectionism feels like. I can still to this day, as I’m telling you about this, feel the heaviness in my chest from the anxiety, the disappointment, and what feels like the utter crashing down of my entire world. Even after all the accomplishments I’ve had in my life, all of the professional awards and accolades, the personal growth, the contentment and satisfaction I have every single day of my life. Even after all the ways I can prove that I’m happy not just to myself, but to my father and the rest of the world, I still carry that scar.

[08:09] I’ll be 45 in a few weeks after this episode airs. So all of this happened over 20 years ago, but it still feels like yesterday if I let it. And that’s why when my niece went away to school, I wrote Benchmarks are Bullshit for her. You’ve heard me mention this before. I wrote it for her and all the other young Latinas who might find themselves fighting the ideals of perfectionism. A little part of me was healed when I gave her that. And I’ll leave you a link in the show notes so you can get your copy too if you wanna heal a little part of you too.

[08:43] So what are we supposed to do with these perfectionist tendencies that we’ve literally been bred with? Well, I have good news! As a childfree Latina listening to this right now, you’ve already proven that you are not only capable, but damn good at breaking expectations and living outside the cultural norms. So yay!

[09:06] For reals, you need to celebrate that aspect of yourself, even if no one else does. Because your willingness to create that boundary, to have the self-awareness to say no to this cultural demand of women, to put yourself first for once, if not twice, that is no small thing. There is phenomenal power in that.

[09:31] So if no one has said this to you before now, let me say it to you. I am proud of you. That takes strength. And this is you demonstrating your power, your strength. ¡Ay caramba! So what else can we challenge while we are standing here in our power? Let’s go ask our old friend Chat GPT otra vez. So here’s what he said. He, I call it a he because you know it was built by hes.

[10:00] One challenge unrealistic expectations. Latinas can start by identifying and challenging their unrealistic expectations for themselves. They can begin by asking themselves if their expectations are realistic or if they’re putting too much pressure on themselves. Learning to set more flexible and achievable standards for themselves can help to reduce stress and improve wellbeing.

[10:22] Okay, yes. But also this is so deeply ingrained in our psyche, in our DNA, in our ancestral traditions and lineage and wounds, that that’s gonna take a little bit of time. So don’t expect that this is just gonna happen overnight. Give yourself the space to learn how to do this and be gentle with yourself.

[10:44] Next, celebrate progress, not perfection. Okay, now Chat GPT is stealing from my old episodes. Because progress is what I’m always telling you to celebrate. Here’s what it says: Latinas can shift their focus from perfectionism to progress by are recognizing and celebrating their achievements no matter how small they may be. ¿Que te acabo de decir? It also says this can help them to maintain motivation and overcome procrastination tendencies.

[11:14] Ding, ding, ding! It got one just right.

[11:17] Number three, practice self-compassion. Latinas can practice self-compassion by treating themselves with the same kindness and understanding that they would offer to a friend, a tu amiga. This can involve learning to accept their mistakes and imperfections as a natural part of the learning process.

[11:36] Now it’s just stealing from what I told you about five minutes ago. Like I said, I’ve kept failing. That’s just a part of life, right? We fail all the time.

[11:47] Next steps. That was 1, 2, 3, 4. Seek support. And ya se que this one might be a little difficult because you need trusted friends or family members, and maybe that’s not something that you have.

[12:01] It says: seek support and if not from your friends or family members from a mental health professional who is culturally aware and sensitive to the unique challenges faced by Latinas. Counseling or therapy can help Latinas to develop effective coping skills and strategies to overcome the perfectionism and the procrastination.

[12:22] Yes. Here’s another thing it got right. We do need to seek out people who look like us, who know what being us means. And how to navigate through that, because people without our cultural sensitivity may not, and it might not work. I mean, I’m not saying that’s true for a hundred percent of everyone. I’m just saying the odds are in your favor if you do that.

[12:47] But also, you know, there’s the whole destigmatizing of seeking mental health help. So, you know, understand that that might also be a hurdle, but it’s one worth overcoming.

[12:58] Y finalmente: prioritize self-care. Ay, again, it’s stealing from me from my last two episodes ago. Latinas can prioritize self-care (haha!) By engaging in activities that promote relaxation and reduce stress, such as exercise, meditation, or spending time with loved ones.

[13:19] Okay! The exercise and meditation are pretty generic. Spending times with loved ones. You know, familialism, familismo, is a big thing in our culture, so that is true. But what if it’s the loved ones that are causing you the anxiety, the stress, and all this shit? Again, maybe a different support network. There are the loved ones that you are born into, the family that you were born into, and then there is the family you create.

[13:43] And that’s not necessarily with a romantic partner, but that could be one. There’s also the family of friends that you choose to have in your life. Anyway, GPT closes out with taking care of their mental and physical health can help Latinas to maintain a healthy balance between their personal goals and their obligations to their family and their community.

[14:05] Not bad for the robot. The robot did good here. That’s not what this was about. This was about just pointing out the fact that perfectionism is bad for us. It is bad. And in fact, you know, I, I interviewed my sewing friend a few episodes back, you know, last summer, Sabrina Clementine, and we were talking about how when it comes to making clothes, nothing is ever perfect.

[14:26] Sometimes you make mistakes, but did it get done? Because when you’re, you are looking at all of these mistakes while you’re wearing a garment, nobody else is gonna see that. Like nobody. Unless you pointed out to them. So progress over perfection is a big saying we have in the sewing community. And it’s a saying that we should all have in our lives.

[14:46] So that’s where I’m gonna leave you mis amigues, mis amigas. Stay hydrated, and that’s a burrito!

[14:52] Got something to say about this week’s episode? Feel free to DM me on Instagram, TikTok, or even Twitter. My info is always in the show notes. And if you’re looking to be a guest in the future for a Vida Más Chévere, check out the guest form on my website at PauletteErato.com. That’s PauletteErato.com.

[15:11] And hey, muchísimas gracias for listening to this episode of La Vida Más Chévere. Are you subscribed or following on your favorite podcast app? If not, now would be a great time to do that. New episodes come out about every other Tuesday. I’m on Apple, I’m on Spotify, wherever you listen. And then can I ask you a favor?[15:29] Please spread the word and share this podcast with your family and friends, tu familia y amigues. Because they’ll probably need a little bit of this in their life too. And I’d really appreciate it if you could rate and or review it wherever you’re listening to it right now. Hasta el próximo martes. ¡Cuídate bien!

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