“The most valuable thing you can make is a mistake – you can’t learn anything from being perfect.” -Adam Osborne
Do you allow yourself to make mistakes and be all right with them? Or do you talk yourself into an attempt to do a “perfect” job?
Being and doing the best that you can is a great idea but if it is preventing you to move forward and paralyzing your progress, it may be time to reconsider.
The truth might very well be that perfectionism is a myth that is propagated by people who do not feel “good enough” about themselves and their work. And all of us have felt like that at some point of our lives.
We may have taken refuge in the promises of the perfect way, the perfect partner, the perfect project and the perfect whatnot.
Let us take a journey into the mind and the realm of perfectionists and see what they do differently and how they manage to keep themselves stuck. I would know because I was a raging perfectionist once and even now, I revert to my old perfectionistic ways at times.
But now I take my perfectionism as a passing phase that I am able to lighten up with and let go of. I know now that perfect is indeed the enemy of the good.
1. The All Overwhelming Inner Voice
“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor.” – Anne Lamott
Perfectionists have an inner voice that whispers to them that no matter what they do, it is never good enough and they never seem to measure up.
They try their best but alas they listen to the inner oppressor far too often and get caught up in games of good and bad.
Listen to your inner oppressor but do not follow its lead. Ignore it!
Redirect your thoughts and attention to reason and a gentler and kinder inner dialogue where good enough is great!
2. Being Good Enough And the Dilemma of Self Worth
“Good enough is good enough. Perfect will make you a big fat mess every time.”― Rebecca Wells
Good enough is indeed good enough. But perfectionists do not believe that they can do and be “good enough.” For them, it is a sign of weakness and defeat to attempt anything that is less than perfect.
They would rather just not attempt anything if it were less than perfect.
And you can imagine, their life is a mess of incompletions and disappointments because they do not allow themselves the luxury of being all right with who they are and what they do.
Let go of trying to wait for the perfect time and the perfect project and jump in and do some “good enough” work.
Become a self-advocate by praising yourself repeatedly and begin filling in small holes of incompletions in your life.
3. Looking Beyond Imperfections and Finding Happiness
“Being happy doesn’t mean that everything is perfect. It means that you’ve decided to look beyond the imperfections.” ~ Gerard Way
Obsessive perfectionists make it their job to focus and berate themselves and others for the seeming imperfections that they have.
They are not open to the view that allowing imperfections and making peace with them is not only required but also essential for contentment and happiness.
Look beyond your imperfections to feel joy and peace.
Allow imperfections and come to peace with them.
Realize that you do not need to fix yourself to feel happy.
4. The Impossibility of Perfectionism
“Perfection is not attainable. But if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence.” -Vince Lombardi
Perfectionists have an ideal of perfect that is just beyond their reach. No matter how hard and long they try, their ideal is impossible to reach.
They are not open to and do not realize that chasing perfection is not the problem. It is just they are unwilling to look for, catch and find excellence.
In their minds, excellence does not quite measure up to perfection.
Chase perfection but be content and happy to discover personal excellence.
Strive to become the “most excellent” version of you, strive for “kaizen” or continual improvement but realize that the concept of perfect limits you from finding excellence.
“Striving for excellence motivates you; striving for perfection is demoralizing.” -Harriet Braiker
5. The Mask Of Perfectionism
“At its root, perfectionism isn’t really about a deep love of being meticulous. It’s about fear. Fear of making a mistake. Fear of disappointing others. Fear of failure. Fear of success.” – Michael Law
Perfectionists are always making things better and waiting to launch their work. Many times, an obsessive need to be perfect is a disguise for the deep fears that they hold about making mistakes and disappointing themselves and others.
Perfectionists get stagnated and stuck because they are deeply afraid of the idea of failure and ironically they are also afraid of great success.
They bury their fears deep down and remain in denial about them and envelope them with a cloak of perfection.
Face your deepest fears by allowing yourself to launch.
Take small steps, allow small failures, small victories and prime yourself for launching a life without excessive limitations.
6. Jumping Right In, Right Here and Right Now
“Use what talent you possess: the woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those that sang best.” – Henry Van Dyke
Perfectionists wait to sing their best song before singing at all. Of course, that is futile because the only way they can sing the best is if they keep singing with the faculties they possess.
Perfectionists are wary of jumping right in with the skills that they have because they are not “perfect.”
Challenge yourself to jump in with what you have and begin singing the song of your life.
7. The Tyranny of Shame and Judgment
“Perfectionism is a shield that we carry with a thought process that says this, ‘If I look perfect, live perfect, work perfect, and do it all perfectly, I can avoid or minimize feeling shame, blame, and judgment.”― Brené Brown
Perfectionists do “damage control” in their lives by attempting to be perfect and lessen the shame and guilt that they have become habitually used to.
They go from crisis to crisis and try to look perfect in the view of the world because they feel that somehow that are still short, still guilty and still not worthy.
Embrace self-compassion and kindness instead of shame and judgment.
Practice radical self-love and care to counter deep feelings of guilt and shame.
8. The Suffering Martyr Syndrome
“Perfectionism becomes a badge of honor with you playing the part of the suffering hero.”— David D. Burns
Perfectionists love to play the role of the suffering martyr and expect the world to understand why they are unable to move forward.
They are constantly living a story that supports, bolsters and glorifies their habit of perfectionism.
Let go of the persona of the perfect suffering martyr and embrace the persona of the imperfect but effective alchemist of your life.
“Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful.”― Annette Funicello
9. The Difference Between Healthy Striving and Obsessive Perfectionism
“Understanding the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism is critical to laying down the shield and picking up your life. Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis.” ― Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection
Perfectionists do not understand the difference between healthy pursuing and obsessive perfectionism.
They are unable to set firm boundaries for themselves about when to stop and when to let go and when to allow.
Set clear boundaries between striving to be good and the need to be perfectionistic.
“It’s a shield. Perfectionism is a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from taking flight.”-Brené Brown
10. The Matter Of Priorities
“But I am learning that perfection isn’t what matters. In fact, it’s the very thing that can destroy you if you let it.”― Emily Giffin
Perfectionists have their priorities backwards. Their major focus in life is driven by a need to look and be perfect.
Perfectionists are not amenable to the suggestion that it is this blind-sighted quest for perfection that makes them unhappy, miserable and utterly unproductive.
Change your priority from perfection to enjoying what you are doing
“Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.” – Confucius
11. The Permission to Fail and Launch
“Perfectionism is not a quest for the best. It is a pursuit of the worst in ourselves, the part that tells us that nothing we do will ever be good enough – that we should try again.” — Julia Cameron
Perfectionists do not allow themselves to launch and feel the need to be better. They repeat their work in the hope that it will become perfect but it always falls short in their assessment.
Catch yourself if you are attempting to improve and make better something that is already great.
Connect with others and get their assessment and compare it with your idea of how good it should be.
“I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die.”― Anne Lamott
12. Self Focused Vs. Other Focused
“Perfectionism is not self-improvement. Perfectionism is, at its core, about trying to earn approval and acceptance. Research shows that most perfectionists were raised being praised for achievement and performance (grades, manners, rule-following, people-pleasing, appearance, sports). Somewhere along the way, we adopt this dangerous and debilitating belief system: I am what I accomplish and how well I accomplish it. Please. Perform. Perfect. Healthy striving is self-focused— How can I improve? Perfectionism is other-focused — What will they think?” –Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection
Perfectionists cannot distinguish between themselves and what they set out to achieve. Being perfectionistic gives them a sense of self worth and identity that they so badly crave for.
Perfectionists give a yardstick measure to others and focus on the favorable or unfavorable opinions of others.
Since opinions and approval from other people is never predictable, they are always living the fine line between satisfaction and disappointment.
Strive to become self-focused and self-motivated and release the burden of what others are thinking about you.
Unhook your self-worth from your accomplishments.
13. The Quest For The Real You
“The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.”― Anna Quindlen
Perfectionists are so busy trying to be perfect that they miss living their own authentic story and live the life that others deem perfect for them.
They never come around to claiming complete responsibility for their life and allowing their imperfect but unique voice to come forth.
Look for your authentic voice and then express it. Cast aside trying to be perfect, focus on being “you.”
14. Perfectionism Is A Moving Target And A Reason For Excuses
“However, don’t let perfectionism become an excuse for never getting started.”— Marilu Henner
Perfectionists make the quest for perfect as their excuse to remain stuck. They set up an elaborate story and structure about how trying to be perfect prevents them from going for their dreams and goals.
They also set the bar higher each time that the end is in sight. They do not realize that the quest for anything perfect is relative and can be a moving target.
Ditch being perfect, toss the excuses and forget the moving target.
“When you aim for perfection, you discover it’s a moving target.” -George Fisher
15. Looking For Purpose, Flow, Joy and The Magic Of The Moment
“People often called us perfectionists, but we were not looking for perfection. We were looking for some kind of magic in the music.” – Paul Simon
And finally, perfectionists miss the magic of the moment because they are always looking for something else.
They do not realize that the journey holds the key to contentment and happiness.
They are focused on perfect destinations but usually there are none to be found.
Look for purpose, flow, joy and the magic that every moment reveals.
Live your adventure instead of trying to become perfect.
“A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.” – Unknown
Here is an infographic that I created for the previous posts that I wrote on perfectionism. Please send me a message here if you would like to download a high-quality pdf version and I will be happy to send it to you.
Please let me know in the comments below if this post resonated with you and how you deal with your own perfectionism.