Is Perfectionism Robbing You Of Connection And Progress?

2013

I am a perfectionist… You would never guess because I am doing lots of things imperfectly. Once this “diagnosis” was confirmed, I was on a mission to free myself from it. I discovered that perfectionism is not about doing things well. If not, what is it about? 

“Perfectionism is NOT about striving to be your best. It’s NOT about healthy achievement and growth. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we’ll escape the pain of criticism, ridicule, judgment, and shame. It’s a shield.” – Brene Brown.

So perfectionism is a form of protection. 

(2021 note: here is my short video on perfectionism and more on procrastination on the same playlist )

Below are the five common signs of perfectionism.

  1. You explain and criticize yourself
  2. It takes you forever to complete a project (procrastination) 
  3. You are scared of learning something new.
  4. You care too much about people who don’t care about you.

1. You explain yourself. 

When you happen to do things slightly below your standards, you explain yourself to everybody around. Why? Because a perfectionist cares too much about what others will think about her. She is subconsciously afraid of rejection, punishment, criticism, people talking behind her back. 

Solution: a potential answer lies in playing with doing things imperfectly and falling in love with the freedom: I have done this so bad, and now I can look at it – neutrally- as an exercise- without judgment. “Yup, sometimes things are done far from perfect, and … it’s ok!”

2. Projects take you “forever”

It takes you forever to complete a job, project, article, spreadsheet, whatever you work on. You waste time revising, reviewing, asking for feedback, and obsessing about what else you can do. To make sure it is perfect.

The truth is – objective perfection does not exist. It will never be perfect for everyone- it just has to feel good for you, but there will always be someone who doesn’t like it. And there always will be people that will love it. For them, it will be perfect.

Example: go to art galleries, and you immediately notice: people are making a lot of crap, and they are proud of it. The gallery owner looks at the crap and agrees to display it. Then a customer walks in and thinks, “hmm, that is a great crap, I want it, here is 5k.” So you can as well be happy with your work much faster – and save yourself a lot of time. Being a perfectionist is not helping you to create better things. It is making you stress more. The only thing you need to do is to stand behind your work 100%. Not 120, not 1000. Just 100% 

3. You are scared of learning new things.

You are pressing the gas and a brake at the same time. You are immobilized. I recall when I wanted to start painting after a long time of not creating, and I wanted it to be perfect the first time. Yesterday I heard someone saying, “I can’t do yoga because I’m not flexible enough”.  Since when do something well, and then do it for the first time? Huh? 

Have patience with yourself and be realistic: all worthwhile things require effort. 

4. You care too much about opinions of people who don’t care about you. 

Basically you care about “the judges, the critics.” Your perfectionism must have started somehow. Either from too strict and demanding parents, kids picking on you, or even an abusive boss or an ex. Those people may not be in your life now, but you still may be operating based on those emotional experiences. 

(a side note: if you work on any limiting beliefs, and perfectionism may as well be one, you will see that they were created by situations causing strong emotions in you.) 

It takes time, but if you mindfully catch the moments when judgement appears – notice where does it come from and whose voice is really talking in your head. Challenge that voice. 

And I think it’s worth repeating the words of Brene Brown “Perfectionism is NOT about striving to be your best. It’s NOT about healthy achievement and growth. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfectly, we’ll escape the pain of criticism, ridicule, judgment, and shame.” It serves as protection, but it doesn’t create or guarantee it at all. 

***

I was on the phone with my friend, Julie, and we talked about strict house rules some people have.

– You are an empty kitchen sink person, aren’t you? – Julie asked suspiciously.

– Actually… am looking at the sink now, and it is full. 

– Great!! I am proud of you! – She exclaimed.

Play with being imperfect. It’s so much more fun!