You don’t have to be great at everything you do.
It’s pretty ironic that I had a hard time writing this. I was thinking about all of the ingenious ways I wanted to talk about perfectionism and how deterring it is to our natural growth, but I couldn’t figure out a way to say it without sounding super lame and nerdy.
So here it is: aiming for perfection will paralyze you.
I experienced this very thing the other day in painting class. I was watching one of the women I admire paint and suddenly I lost all inspiration. I saw what she was doing and thought,
“Look at her cool technique. I don’t even come close to being that good!”
The teacher loves her, the class loves her, even I love her. But I hate comparing myself to her. It makes me stop dead in my tracks, unable to continue because of the paralysis by analysis syndrome.
In our subconscious mind, we know that way of thinking is ridiculous. There is no such thing as perfection, yet we consistently strive for it. Why?
Being a perfectionist is really about avoiding hurt, guilt and disappointing others.
We don’t want to feel shame or embarrassment. When we fall short of expectations (our own or of others) there is an element of shame. It flowers up and we feel like we’re not good enough.
Part of it is wanting to be accepted (If I do this perfectly, he/she will love me), part of it is vulnerability (If I do this perfect, I won’t be subject to criticism) and the other part is control (If I do this perfect, I don’t have to worry). But in the end, it all becomes very exhausting and counterproductive. It actually does the opposite of what we want it to.
Instead of feeling great about getting it right, we feel like we can never rest for fear of losing that illusion of perfection.
I grew up with a perfectionist father. He was an engineer by trade and in his mind there was a right way to do things and a wrong way. He couldn’t do anything without knowing that he would do it right the first time (measure ten times, cut once). If he saw a possible way of failing, he would work on it until he figured out the glitch.
When I was an adult, he spoke about being an awkward, shy kid and how perfectionism gave him some solid ground to hang on to. He was able to build his confidence because there was a right way and a wrong way to do things. He later realized he was chained to this way of thinking because of his training and it robbed him of a lot of pleasure
It gave me a better understanding of him because he was just trying to find his way. Luckily, having four kids tempered his perfectionist ways over the years and he can now laugh at himself.
Most of us can relate on some level to that relentless attitude to get it right. But what I’ve realized is, at some point you have to be okay with just good enough. There’s not enough time in the day and there’s too much fun to be had, to worry about the exhausting details that perfectionism demands.
Here are 5 ways to break out of the crazy and loosen the grip:
1. Keep a beginner’s mind. Ease up your expectations. With a beginner’s mind, all things are possible. An expert mind doesn’t have a lot of flexibility. How would you do it if you could do it any way you like?
2. When you feel the perfectionism creeping in, ask yourself: how can I make this easier? Sometimes the most basic, obvious things are the ones we miss. It’s okay to take the easy way and let yourself off the hook.
3. Let go and get it done. Half-ass it once in a while! There’s a certain satisfaction that comes with just getting things done. This method also allows room for learning. Progress, not perfection.
4. Ask for help. Most of the time, we are our own worst critics. When you get into a perfectionist spiral, ask a friend if you’re being neurotic. Ask someone who will be honest with you!
5. When in doubt, change course. If you can feel that edgy perfectionism budding up, do something else. Interrupt the flow and allow yourself some space to breathe. Go for a walk, call a friend, get away from whatever it is that’s demanding your inner critic to go on overdrive. A new perspective can do wonders.
Fight the tendency to want to please others through the illusion of perfection. It makes room for a life actually worth living: messy, joyful and beautiful.
“To be enlightened is to be without anxiety over imperfection. “
Stephanie Martel is the publisher of VibrantLivingProject where she writes about nutrition, personal development and the art of becoming yourself. She’s a certified health coach and graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, with a certificate in Holistic Health. She aims to show others that digging into who you are and creating the life you love can be fun, inspiring and an all around good time.
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Assistant ed: Catherine Monkman