Perfectionism. You tout it on interviews as one of your greatest strengths. While hailing its name, you follow your kids around the house with a microfiber cloth and your favorite cleaner—Method Cucumber Surface Spray (been there!). You give it all the credit after delivering a project on time and on budget (without giving it the credit for hours of belaboring over emails and colors and words and serial commas not to mention what everyone on the team will think of the emails and colors and words and serial commas). It’s the reflection by which you measure your body, your relationships, your work and your joy. Yes, even your joy!
We dutifully worship at the altar of perfectionism—but to what cost? How is perfectionism holding you back? Here’s a short list (that is by no means exhaustive) of the top areas of your life that are impacted by your perfectionist ways.
You may think that by telling your boss you’re a perfectionist, he’s going to give you a high achiever award. You’re wrong. What he’s really thinking is, “She’s never going to get anything done.” Among leaders, perfectionism is seen as a weakness and not a strength (so choose something else for that upcoming interview!). When you’re caught in the grips of delivering the unattainable—a perfect product or service—you can choose to make the perfection a priority over meeting a deadline, customer need or addressing a financial cost. This a lose-lose scenario that will dramatically impact your relationships and reputation over time.
“Never good enough” is the rallying cry of the perfectionist. In thinking and living this mantra, over time you can widdel your confidence down to a tiny, thirsty sapling. Its thirst is for praise and validation that only comes from external sources and when it does, it is deflected with self-criticism, so it is never truly satisfied. This damaged confidence hinders your ability to trust your intuition, thus you begin to second-guess your every decision and can be left paralyzed.
How calm can you feel when negativity is jabbing at you all day, when nothing you do or produce feels worthy, when the thought of someone noticing the tiny hole in your sweater feels like the nagging pebble in your boot on a 12 mile hike? The answer is obvious -- and yet, we continue on this path where we believe we will find our peace and calm once we meet our goal of the perfect job or the perfect body or finding the perfect life partner. Then, we will deserve to feel peaceful! Well, sadly if this is your approach, you will be waiting an eternity or until that moment you learn that you can choose the peace you want to feel no matter where you are on the path to your achievement. In fact, I would say that it’s near impossible to achieve that thing without this realization and without a commitment to choose peace on the regular.
Here’s a funny little secret: people are drawn to imperfection. Lucky for me, people tend to like quirky personalities! According to the sage Brené Brown, “Imperfections are not inadequacies; they are reminders that we’re all in this together.” The quirks, the flaws or as the late Robin Williams labels them in Good Will Hunting—the peccadillos—they make you interesting and relatable and memorable. When you try to hide those things under a thinly veiled perfectionist standard, you’re missing out on deeper connections and relationships that are frankly more fun!
Often times when we hold ourselves to an unattainable standard, we don’t stop there. We can hold our partners to this standard as well, and to better understand how this makes them feel, please see numbers 1-4, above. In a nutshell, it makes them feel unappreciated, unworthy and unloved. Harsh, yes, but also accurate. It’s a surefire way to get them to back off from being vulnerable with you, as you may have done with them in an effort to hide your own imperfections. When this happens on both ends it can mean the beginning of a distance that must be addressed before the gap becomes too wide upon which to build bridges.
Are you convinced or are you still hanging onto your habit with a vice grip? I’m a fan of experiments that produce small wins. Choose one area of your life this week where you can practice letting go of your perfectionism and see what happens. My dad used to call those holes in his sweaters, “air conditioning” and it’s one of the memories of him that always makes me smile. What are your peccadillos and how are you going to turn them into your superpowers starting right now?