Confessions of a Perfectionist
During my first job interview they asked me what was my greatest weakness and I replied, “I’m a perfectionist”. I thought I was being clever by making perfectionism (which I believed to be a strength) sound like a weakness.
Now a decade later I’ve come to realise how perfectionism actually caused me more harm than good. I mean how can this be?
Definition of perfectionism
Perfectionism is about striving to reach a high demanding, unrealistic flawlessness. Until this is achieved the perfectionist feels worthless and becomes depressed, as they cannot be satisfied with anything short of perfection.
Unfortunately this is all rooted in the fact that their value is in their performance. A perfectionist constantly needs people to compliment, admire and reassure what they are doing. Others’ perception of them is more important than being authentic because they fear that they won’t be loved if they are perceived as anything less than ‘perfect’, so they hide behind the mask of perfectionism. The mask gives them a sense of worth and keeps them from being hurt, it unfortunately keeps them from being truly loved, seen and known.
Author Brené Brown describes what a perfectionist would think, “If I look perfect, do it perfect, work perfect and live perfect, I can avoid or minimize shame, blame and judgment.”
Can’t move from the sideline
A perfectionist who wants to launch their own business will often not start or complete a task or idea. Fear is always whispering to them that they won’t be able to achieve the unrealistic high standards that they have set. Comparison feeds their thoughts “I won’t be able to do it better than him/her”.
Shame tells them that they are not good enough and never will be. As they focus on not failing it removes the element of risk in their business and personal lives preventing them from the ability to be creative. They dwell on the mistakes that they have made and constantly remind themselves of it.
“You can’t do anything brave if you rely on what people think” – Brené Brown
They are overcome by the feelings of what they’ll produce won’t be good enough, they are not good enough and they can’t attain the unrealistic expectation of perfection so they never move from the sideline.
Here is a list of 15 Traits of a Perfectionist
Moving from Perfectionism to Excellence
“Striving for excellence motivates you; striving for perfection is demoralizing.” – Harriet Braiker
So what is excellence? Excellence is internally focused and is a form of healthy striving. It’s saying that you will not settle for anything else than your best, not because of what others will think but because of who you are.
It allows those that have experienced disappointment to keep going and correct their mistakes and learn from them. Excellence sets a moving target as it’s about the journey. It’s ever growing because your worth doesn’t come from the approval of others.
Difference between perfectionism and excellence
- Perfectionism is about doing the thing right but excellence is about doing the right thing.
- Perfection is a fear of failure but excellence sees failure as feedback.
- Perfectionism focuses on the destination but excellence focuses on the journey and the destination.
- Perfectionism makes you defensive but excellence allows you to be open to suggestions.
- Perfection is about finding fault but excellent is about finding benefits.
There is hope
If you are a perfectionist there is hope. It’s a journey that I am myself walking through. I remembered being around nine years old. I would be terrified to walk home with a school card showing anything less than 90 over a 100. The illusive mandatory requirement to feel worth, love and acceptance depended on my ability to perform at school.
This particular teacher that I had for my last two years of primary school would use verbal abuse, shame and physical punishment as his primary tools to motivate the class. I’m not saying this for you to feel sorry for me, but for you to think in your own life what has re-inforced the need for performance so as to feel worth.
This will not only allow you to get a breakthrough in your business and professional life, but also and most importantly in your relationships.
A book that I highly recommend is Brené Brown – Daring Greatly
Here is an extract from the book
“You still want folks to like, respect, and even admire what you’ve created, but your self-worth is not on the table.
You know that you are far more than a painting, an innovative idea, an effective pitch, a good sermon, or a high Amazon.com ranking. Yes, it will be disappointing and difficult if your friends or colleagues don’t share your enthusiasm, or if things don’t go well, but this effort is about what you do, not who you are. Regardless of the outcome, you’ve already dared greatly, and that’s totally aligned with your values; with who you want to be.
When our self-worth isn’t on the line, we are far more willing to be courageous and risk sharing our raw talents and gifts.”
Putting Excellence to Work
So this summer I decided to challenge myself and actively move away from perfectionism and lean on the value of Excellence.
I remember a conversation with Roland Frasier (one of the most intelligent business men I know) from Native Commerce at the start of 2016. I mentioned to him that perfectionism was holding me back and Roland said to me “It’s better to have it done half ass than no ass!”
So here’s to being vulnerable and Daring Greatly!
“I am careful not to confuse excellence with perfection. Excellence I can reach for; perfection is God’s business.” – Michael J. Fox
Update: Read Part 2 of the Perfectionism Series – How Dare You Speak To Me Like This