Are you a perfectionist?
Does it bring joy to your life?
I’m pretty sure if the answer to the first question is yes, the answer to question number two is definitely a great big NO.
How do I know that?
Because I am a recovering perfectionist.
I spent way too many miserable years trying to be perfect and trying to make everyone and everything around me perfect, too.
Needless to say, I have never succeeded.
Why? It is simply not possible. Perfectionism, and its ugly sibling Control, are impossible to achieve and rather than help us to attain success, they block us from it. In addition, perfectionism can cause numerous other problems, including health problems.
It has taken me many years, and there are still days I struggle with it, but I finally learned this very important principle:
Perfection is a myth.
There are no perfect people. (Yes, there was one who lived on the earth about 2000 years ago, but this isn’t a religious post so we’re not going there today).
If you are making yourself—and everyone around you—miserable on your quixotic quest to be perfect, it’s time to stop.
Not an hour from now.
Not as soon as you finish your next project.
And not after next time because you just know that next time you’ll do it perfectly.
Now. Stop being a perfectionist now. If you want to be successful in business, and in life—and if you want to be happy, you need to ditch your perfectionism.
Here are 5 Reasons you need to stop being a perfectionist now.
How does perfectionism rob us of success?
1. Expecting perfection sets us up to fail.
No one is perfect.
Let me repeat that—a little louder in case you didn’t hear me clearly:
NO ONE IS PERFECT.
You aren’t perfect, and you aren’t going to be perfect. You can excel, and excellence is a great thing to strive for. Perfection is not. When you insist on the unattainable goal of perfection, you have already assured yourself that you cannot possibly succeed. In the words of Michael J. Fox, “I am careful not to confuse excellence with perfection. Excellence, I can reach for; perfection is God’s business.”
2. Expecting perfection limits our willingness to try.
No one likes to put themselves out there knowing that they’re going to fail. When we insist on being able to do everything perfectly, we have assured ourselves of failure and so we are much less willing to try anything. After all, if you’re only going to fail, why bother?
Since perfectionism often arises out of a feeling of insecurity or unworthiness, we tend to avoid anything that would increase those feelings. It is rare that we do well anything we are trying for the first time. I don’t know about you, but the first dozen or so times I got on a bicycle as a little girl, I managed to either fall off or run into something. I definitely wasn’t perfect; in fact, I was downright terrible at it. Eventually, though, I learned to keep my bike upright and discovered it was pretty fun to ride like the wind. Sadly, my bicycle still seems to be attracted to stationary objects but I continue to ride nevertheless.
3. Perfectionism inhibits risk taking and creativity.
This one pretty much goes along with the one before. But that fear of not being perfect means we’re probably not going to try and that really cool idea we just thought up? Well, it will just have to wait for someone who’s willing to take the chance and make it come to life. Studies have found perfectionists to be risk-averse, which can inhibit innovation and creativity. When we stop being a perfectionist, we can start being the creative person we were meant to be.
4. Perfectionism sets us up for chronic dissatisfaction.
Perfectionists are rarely happy with anything they’ve done—whether or not they’ve actually finished it. Rather than enjoy the satisfaction of a completed project or a reached goal, they focus only on all the errors only they notice—or how the goal took longer than it “should have” or things didn’t turn out exactly as they planned. And, as a result. . .
5. Perfectionists are procrastinators.
If you have perfectionist tendencies, you tend to avoid starting projects that can’t possibly turn out the way they’re supposed to (perfect, ya know?). Perfectionists tend to measure their whole body of work against the very best of everyone else. Why bother if everyone is always going to be better? I tell people I’m not a procrastinator—I’m just “deadline oriented.” But the hard truth is that I do put off starting—or finishing—projects because if I don’t finish it, you can’t judge it and tell me all the ways it isn’t perfect.
When I was in college, I had to write a speech. I wrote the speech the night before it was due, but then tore it up on my way to class because it wasn’t perfect. I wrote another one and turned it in at the next class. When the instructor handed it back, he said, “If you had turned it in on time it would have been an ‘A’ speech.” Of course, my response was that if I had turned it in on time, it wouldn’t have been an “A” speech because it wasn’t good enough.
I am pretty sure I pulled more than a lifetime’s worth of all-nighters in college by putting off papers until I absolutely had to do them. When I “didn’t have time” and had to do it at the last minute, it gave me an excuse for it not being “perfect.” Yeah, it’s dumb, but that’s how the perfectionist brain works.
So, what can you do to overcome perfectionism?
For me, here’s what’s worked:
- Step back and let go. I have learned that when it is time for me to be done with a project, I have to let it go. I need to step away from whatever it is and stop tinkering with it, whether it’s baking a cake, painting a wall or writing a blog post. AND I have to send it out into the world and let people see it and judge it and give me feedback on it. It’s not easy, but it nearly always turns out much better than I think it will.
- Recognize that sometimes life throws us things beyond our control. Everything doesn’t always go according to our plans–and we cannot control either the outcome or the process. And disappointment isn’t failure. If plan A doesn’t pan out, remember there are 25 more letters in the alphabet.
- Stop with the comparisons and the judgment. Recognize perfectionism for the damaging behavior that it is. There is NO UPSIDE to being a perfectionist. It’s exhausting, soul-destroying and joy robbing. I had to learn to stop comparing my behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s public persona. Ok, what I really had to do was learn to stop comparing myself with other people. Once I stopped beating myself up over what I perceived as the perfection of others and stopped trying to compete with them (which they never even knew), my own talents became free to develop and flourish.
- Learn to recognize and accept that I am not the sum of what other people think of me. My self-worth isn’t dependent on how much anyone else values me. God values me, the people who matter in my life value me, and I value me. This one was really hard. It took me a lot of time and a lot of support from the supportive people in my life–and learning to distance myself from the people who weren’t.
I am who I am; I am enough. It doesn’t matter whether you agree with that statement or not. It only matters that I learn to believe it. Some days it is easier than others. And once I did that, I was able to begin applying the same principle to the people around me—and life is so much more peaceful and less stressful these days now that I am learning to stop being a perfectionist.
- Find a mentor, coach, or accountability partner. It’s almost impossible to stop being a perfectionist on your own and without help. Having someone to help talk you down “off the ledge” when you get caught in that endless loop of perfectionism can help you learn to recognize it before it becomes a self-destructive spiral and torpedoes your success. In extreme cases, you may need to seek the help of a qualified therapist.
Need help finding someone? Message me here. I’ve been down that road and may be able to help–or help you find the right help.
How about you? Are you a perfectionist? What are you doing to overcome perfectionism? I’d love to hear what is working for you–and offer support if you need it.