I know. Simply the title of this entry has some of you already defensive. I am defensive about it and I am the one writing it. The idea that striving for perfection may be unhealthy or counterproductive is hard for many of us to accept. I mean clearly we were taught to be the best, to strive for the top, to excel in all things…so of course we should strive for perfection right? Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!
Too soften the blow I have added the word ‘extreme’ when I describe perfectionism because again I know this idea is hard to accept. But let me help you as I help myself. There is a stark difference between striving to be the best you can be and striving to be perfect. Being the best you can be means that you consistently put your all into your efforts. Striving to be perfect means you don’t allow room for mistakes and ultimately growth.
I use to see extreme perfectionism as a badge of honor. I now understand it is often an indication of hidden fear. I will explain what I mean, but first, do you mind if I put on my clinician hat for a moment?
In my field the idea of ‘perfectionism’ can lead to serious challenges in our ability to live our lives freely. Perfectionism demands that an individual be without any error, it places unrealistic expectations on one’s performance and it leads to emotionally damaging self-criticism. It also puts too much weight on the perceptions of others. Lastly, and this is the one that really concerns me…it leads to the person striving for perfectionism to be judgmental of others who don’t always get it right.
I know! I know! You are saying “Come on Robin…it’s not that serious”. But if a need for perfectionism is high on your radar I don’t want you to so quickly dismiss this information.
If anyone has followed my work longer than a month you know that I love Oprah. Within the last year I was introduced through Oprah (like we are friends…let me keep my fantasy world in tact please…) to my new obsession and her name is Brene Brown (this woman is amazing). Brene Brown recently said this when it comes to the idea of perfectionism:
“Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.”
I could do a church shout on that! Please re-read it! Perfectionism gives us the false belief that we can “….avoid or minimize feelings of shame, judgment and blame”.
Remember I said that I now understand that striving for extreme perfectionism is an indicator of unspoken fear. We are afraid to be judged, afraid that we will not ‘measure up’, afraid that someone will see our flaws and imperfections, afraid that if we are not flawless we will not be deemed credible.
Of course when we are being logical we know that most of that doesn’t make sense and even if it is true it shouldn’t be…but again that is when we are being logical and most times ‘perfectionism’ is driven by our emotions and not our logic.
So what is the real truth about perfectionism? Instead of it pushing us forward, it actually holds us back. Below are 3 facts I have learned about perfectionism through my own journey…check them out and let’s free ourselves…
1. …Stifles your creativity
Being able to truly create and dream requires mental freedom. Perfectionism literally stifles your ability to be FREE! Who can be free when they can’t make any mistakes? If you want to truly be your best creative self, intentionally schedule time where you can create without an expectation of doing it all right.
2. …Suffocates your confidence
While you might long for perfectionism, it is illusive and you can never fully meet that standard. And so then what happens? Well over time you begin to subconsciously (or maybe even with full consciousness) beat yourself up for not being perfect…for not getting it all right! In order to limit the self-esteem draining impact of perfectionism, remind yourself (audibly if necessary) that you are amazing not because you are perfect, but because you keep going even when you don’t have all the answers or when you make mistakes.
3. …Sabotages your growth
I know you think that demanding perfectionism will increase your professional and or personal growth, but it does the opposite. First of all it creates stress for you and carrying stress long-term has consequences. Secondly, it can hinder how people connect with you. On a personal level, your friends and family can not measure up to your unspoken (or for those of us who are really out there…spoken) demands. You may think you aren’t putting your pressures on other people but it happens often without you even trying too. You raise the bar so high that your friends, family or even your children just can’t meet it. And professionally, your need to be perfect in your delivery causes you to be overly analytical, unable to go with the flow and it may even cause you to miss deadlines because “…I can’t turn this in until is perfect”. In order to stop the sabotage, get feedback from people you trust. Ask them to hold you accountable. Let them know you want to maintain your standard without limiting your ability to connect and produce.
Again, I know that this is a challenge for those of us who have found our identify in doing and being right. And to be fair, striving for excellence should be everyone’s goal. We should not live our lives haphazardly and not give our very best at all times. But there is a difference between excellence and perfectionism. One leads us to be at the top of our game and the other leads us to be controlled by the game. Finding the right balance will allow you to live intentionally…it will allow you to fully engage!
I want to hear from you. Do you struggle with perfectionism? How has it hindered you personally or professionally? Have you found ways to overcome the need for perfectionism?