In my 20s, I beamed like a ballerina princess in her twinkly pink castle declaring I had perfectionist tendencies.
Oh how times have changed.
Now in my role as a performance coach, I often hear clients stalling on projects because it’s not quite right or waiting for the perfect timing.
I hear myself referring to perfectionism as the height of insanity, that being perfect is just another form of procrastination and perfectionists have no standards.
How often do we hear someone confess to being a perfectionist, or make a guilty admission that they are always held back by how perfect they like things to be? Probably not often, I’m guessing.
Admission and my moment of truth came when I realized I had been looking for the perfect couch for two years. No joke. I reached a point in a furniture store where I thought enough already.
Am I going to keep waiting for a couch to be 100% right? Just buy one! And guess what, it’s not perfect and I’m ok with that.
Obviously this is a bit of a frivolous example and it goes much further than material things—relationships, careers and health are all affected by our perfectionism.
It doesn’t surprise me that many of us end up in the perfectionist trap. We are taught to see it as a good thing.
At school we are rewarded for getting it right and not for taking a risk. It’s easier to fit in when we are right. One of the worst feelings we recall as kids is being embarrassed by others telling us we did something wrong.
Reality check, school is over and it’s time to drop the need for being Little Miss Perfect.
Aiming for 100% all the time is an impossible task. It is awesome to create a stretch target, but when the goal has an ever increasing ‘perfect-o-meter’ we’re setting ourselves up for failure.
Falling victim to perfectionism can also mean we are always waiting for exactly the right time, for all the ducks to line up before we make a move. But those ducks never seem to line up perfectly, and while time passes we miss an opportunity that may never come around again.
When we are in perfectionist mode we are demonstrating our need to be in control of everything. This usually comes from a fear of failure or of not being good enough.
“It’s just fear in really good shoes.” ~ Elizabeth Gilbert
By using our perfectionist excuses we get to get to play the stay safe game—never risking anything—which is fine if we are happy staying where we are.
But are we happy in that place?
Here are some questions to consider if we believe we may be suffering from Miss Perfect Pants-itis.
Who are we trying to control and how much energy are we using trying to control it?
Often when we try to control external chaos we are actually attempting to control our own. It’s exhausting. At some point we need to trust ourselves enough to say we are comfortable to let this go and let it be as it will be.
What is driving our need for perfectionism?
What are we actually afraid will happen if things go awry? Are we worried about what people will think about us if we don’t keep up the façade? Remember that boss who made us feel that no matter what we did, it was never quite enough.
What are we getting from being perfectionists?
Do we get to excuse ourselves from committing to something we are passionate about for fear of failure? What will we miss out on if we keep playing this game? I like to remind myself of one of my favourite quotes:
“Done is better than perfect.” ~ Sheryl Sandberg
What happens if we let go of this need to control everything?
Be rational. Nothing. Because deep down we know it’s not possible to control the whole wide world.
The best way to give up a perfectionist streak is to acknowledge what’s behind the fear we are feeding and then make a choice.
We can buy into the fear and try to control everyone and everything (good luck!) or become super clear and strive towards our greater purpose.
Rather than consuming energy controlling others, we can focus on all the good qualities and abilities within us—like our desire to live life to the full, demonstrating appreciation and love for others or practicing self-forgiveness and humanity towards ourselves.
When we give ourselves the permission to let go of perfectionism, we’ll find it’s a much more rewarding place to be.
Author: Rebecca Williams
Apprentice Editor: Lee Lomas; Editor: Khara-Jade Warren
Image: LaVladina/ Flickr