I used to be a perfectionist and I had NO IDEA how detrimental it was to my life, not only for me, but for others around me. In fact, for a majority of my life, I even thought it was a strong point of my personality that enabled me to succeed. It was my slam dunk answer to the ever so popular job interview question, “what’s your weakness?” because it’s easy to spin being a perfectionist as a positive. Everybody loves a perfectionist…or at least they think they do.
This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Let me explain.
PERFECTION IS TO BE SOUGHT AFTER
The lure of perfection is very tempting. Conventional thought and society are consistently giving us signals that seeking perfection will make us better people. Being perfect will not only make us better people, we’ll be cool. We’ll feel amazing, we’ll look amazing, everyone will love us and we’ll be more successful because everything we do and touch is flawless. Right?
Social media intensifies these pressures exponentially. I’ll be the first to admit that I only put my best pictures on Facebook. Partly because I don’t want to look bad (ahem, although I’m now making a conscious effort to not worry about this so much, can someone say fear of judgment??), but partly because we tend to want to share the best of our life and not our worst, which is completely normal. I’m thinking that most people approach social media with the same mentality.
As a result, we are constantly bombarded with images and stories of happy people that all have their shit together and have perfect lives. We are conditioned to believe perfect = happiness. And also equally important, imperfection = bad life and pain. We are intensely motivated and hardwired to seek happiness and pleasure, and to avoid pain, so the pull to be perfect is strong.
THE TICKING TIME-BOMB
On the surface, it would seem that perfection is the constant message because it is through seeking perfection that we can reach our full potential. But, when we dig a little deeper, we find that it can actually prevent us from reaching our true potential.
Think about these questions for a minute.
- What does it mean to be perfect?
- What needs to happen in order for you to be perfect?
- Whose definition of perfect are you trying to meet? The media’s, your friends’, your mom’s?
- Are any of the answers to these questions feasible, realistic or attainable?
I think what you’ll find is that perfection really is in the eye of the beholder. By the simple fact that everyone has a different definition of perfection, it is impossible to be perfect.
But, I think we all know that being perfect is impossible on some level, so that’s not really revolutionary. It’s how that mindset influences everything else we do that makes it dangerous and here’s why:
You are always thinking of yourself as a failure – If perfection is the goal, anything less than that is often thought of as failure in the mind. This type of thinking can absolutely destroy your confidence, self-worth and self-esteem because you will never be enough.
Perfection can lead to procrastination – This might seem like two opposite ends of the spectrum but, they are both driven by self-doubt. When perfectionists feel like they are lacking something (time, money, knowledge, etc.) to perform a task perfectly, they avoid doing it altogether. Confession: this is why cleaning and specifically laundry has been my all-time arch-nemesis (If you know me hopefully you get a chuckle!!). I used take a reeeaaalllly long time to do my laundry because I could get so detailed about it, so I would avoid it until it was absolutely necessary. I’m getting better about this one…
Seeking perfection can make you extremely inefficient, slow and lacking in creativity – Obviously my example above demonstrates parts of this point. But, this is really detrimental to being successful in your career and otherwise. We think we are doing ourselves a favor by being overly detail oriented, sticking exactly to the guidelines, and reviewing things 2.2 million times before we give them to our boss. And yes, it probably does have some benefits in terms of people will know that you can do great, detailed work. But, that alone is not going to be what makes you successful. Getting things done, putting new ideas out there, going outside the guidelines (when appropriate), and putting imperfect work out there for feedback (read: growth) is what’s going to get us to the next level.
Anytime anything doesn’t go according to plan, it’s going to be a major issue – Perfectionists tend to be crazy planners because, well, the best way to control a perfect outcome is to plan EVERY detail and hold onto that plan for dear life. But, here’s the thing, life NEVER goes according to plan. Ever. Instead of being flexible and adaptable to changing circumstances, all this means is a lot of unnecessary stress (see my writings on travel here for a good example of this). We all know what Darwin’s theory of evolution was, right???? Our lives are not an exception to this theory. Change is constant and to be successful in life, one must be willing to adapt.
Perfection causes decision paralysis – Not only will a perfectionist be very slow to abandon their plans, they will also have a hard time deciding what to do when plans fail. Without thoroughly researching all available options, it’s hard to make a decision. I mean, what if I make the wrong decision!!!! We often need to change our plans a lot quicker than this analysis process takes, which can be a problem. I’m not even talking about big decisions. Know anyone who has a hard time deciding where to eat? Especially if their first choice for a restaurant is closed? I’ve had many an argument with my husband over this stuff.
Perfection creates massive collateral damage – If our own expectation is perfection, we will undoubtedly hold others to that standard as well, even if they (and we!) don’t know it. This can be a huge source of conflict both in the workplace and at home. This mindset is NOT conducive to building relationships of any kind because you will always make other people feel like they’re not enough. And people don’t want to feel that way. If we’re going to do anything worthwhile in this life, we’re going to need the cooperation of others. It’s a lot easier to work with someone’s best imperfect effort than someone who doesn’t want to cooperate with you at all. This has bit me in the ass on more than one occasion.
Oh, the irony of perfectionism. It lures us in with the promise of living our very best life, but it is the pursuit of perfection that will prevent us from ever fully achieving our best life. With perfection, nothing is ever good enough.
Has this struck a chord with you? Want to know how you can begin to shift away from perfection to a more productive mindset? Part 2 of this series will dive into how we can do this. Sign up for email updates if you don’t want to miss it!