Even though I constantly fight it, I am a staunch perfectionist – It’s an ongoing struggle: a part of my personality that I can’t seem to escape.
We might think being a perfectionist helps us to do high quality work, and makes us attractive to future employers. But perfectionism can be deadly both in our work environments, and in our personal lives! As I reflected this morning I came to believe I may have perfectionist soulmates out there.
So this is for me, and for you :-). I came up with five ways that our perfectionist tendencies can tank us behind our backs.
1. We can be afraid to try new things. What if we can’t do it exactly right the first time? What if there is a small error in our execution or thinking? What if (God forbid) we reveal something we didn’t intend to reveal! Stepping into something new can be horrifying for the perfectionist. The errors and processes that naturally occur as we’re learning something are not acceptable to us. Therefore, it’s best to stay in our comfort zone and just do what we know. That way – our learning processes are left way behind and our final product is perfect – as we require it to be.
2. We are our own worst critics: We might find ourselves missing timelines or procrastinating because we are convinced a project we aren’t comfortable with won’t live up to our standards (or the standards of others). Procrastination isn’t good for anybody. We might actually come across as lazy, flighty, or undependable because we just can’t display any work that is less than exceptional to our colleagues or to the world! Someone else could find our work absolutely brilliant, but to us, it just doesn’t make the mark.
3. We hide when our appearance isn’t what we want it to be: Gained a little weight? Ran out of foundation? Spilled a drop of coffee on a tie? Well, there is no way anyone will see us like that. We’ll go to great lengths with our appearance, our clothes and our presentation of ourselves in general. The energy we spend worrying about these things can be better spent in other ways. Others won’t think we are a slob just because we had a bad hair day or because there was a bump that appeared on our faces – however, to us, this is simply unacceptable!
4. We constantly measure ourselves against others: I like to live by the Four Agreements – one of which is Always Do Your Best. Your Best can be different from one situation to the other, and from one day to the next. Be kind to yourself when you are having a bad day. If there is a deadline to be met, and at the same time your teenaged daughter is having a meltdown, your bank account is low and the IRS is knocking at your door (metaphorically or literally) your priority is to meet the deadline, even if your work may not reflect what you believe is your “best self”. The reality is – our best IS our best at that moment in time. The moment will pass, that best will pass, and things will continue. It would be good to still have a job or work prospects when the moment passes, the daughter is happily humming and doing homework, the bank account is flush with cash, and the IRS is hounding someone else (metaphorically or literally).
5. Our relationships with others can suffer: If we don’t see a relationship as “perfect” we are likely to let it go. This is a very bad thing. No relationship is perfect 100% of the time. Long-term relationships especially can have serious ups and downs. It’s easy as a perfectionist to let go of these relationships because they aren’t exactly as we’d like them to be. The most perfectionist of us will sabotage relationships because that may be the only way to get out of them…and we may do this on purpose because at least we are in control of the way the relationship ends. In our minds, things are now perfect, because the pesky imperfect relationship is over. We need to extend both to ourselves and to others the permission to be less than a perfect friend, spouse, or colleague.
Being a perfectionist is seen as a good thing in many circles. But being a perfectionist can take a toll on us! I give you (and myself) permission today to be less than perfect in every way. To my perfectionist soulmates – today I give us permission to do our level best and be absolutely content with that. Let’s take a break from trying to be perfect.