Calling Perfectionism Names

perfectly imperfect

I recently attended a virtual workshop for moms. It was a new concept to me and listening to all these women bloggers, writers and entrepreneurs talk was really inspiring.  I noticed one thing, though, that surprised me. Every speaker made comments about "needing to let go of perfectionism" and "don't feel like you need to be perfect as this" related to whatever their topic was. Seriously, every one of them. Whether it was parenting, exercising, eating well, dressing yourself better, an underlying theme was that we don't already do these things in part because of PERFECTIONISM.

I have long considered myself a perfectionist and I could absolutely relate to these women's comments. However, around day 4 (it was 5 days long) it suddenly struck me that maybe they were being gentle on us listeners. Perfectionism is "the refusal to accept any standard short of perfection." This is a real and valid issue that many of us have. I visualize this as a florist that works tirelessly on a flower arrangement to get it just right. It may seem tedious to an outsider, but the florist is putting all her energy and focus into what she creates. She makes tiny adjustments until it looks perfect, to her, and she sends it off to the wedding or sets it out in her shop. Perfectionism is also one of those favorite answers to the job interview question "what would you consider your biggest weakness?" (You're welcome job hunters!) Yeah, it can cause you undue stress but you also are likely to have a pretty high standard to which you hold yourself. It’s not all bad. I think that’s what keep so many of us in that perfectionism mindset, sometimes it sucks but sometimes it really helps us be successful.


Unfortunately, being a "perfectionist" for many of us, is really more like being a florist that never arranges her flowers in the first place. She goes to work at a job she doesn’t like much instead, and daydreams about flowers. Or, she starts but leaves the arrangement languishing in the closet instead of letting it be enjoyed. It strikes me as important that when this is happening, we dig deep and call it what it is: self-criticism and fear. Fear of being judged, fear of not being good enough, fear of the unknown. Self talk that is filled with negativity and doubt in yourself. Whatever it is, and it's likely a combination, it's important to call it what it is so it can be dealt with appropriately.

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A real-life example might help understand why this is critical. When I work with someone who has a hard time turning in a project because he is constantly tweaking it, I help identify which is the underlying issue. If the issue is it isn't "perfect" and he continuously sees small errors, then we may brainstorm a few practical solutions like: you must turn it in by a specific deadline, then let it go. Or, you can make 5 passes through it and then it's done. Or, identify a proof reader you trust. You get the picture; you can set parameters around the issue and tackle it.

If it's self-criticism, then it's good to get all those negative statements out in the open, instead of lurking around in the back of your mind wreaking havoc. Maybe the client thinks “I don’t know how to write a memo. I can’t do this and it’s going to be embarrassing.” Once they are out there, we can start identifying opposite statements to use instead. You need to develop a self-care voice and grow that muscle to overpower those negative statements that are well entrenched in your subconscious. A good rebuttal to that negative voice might be “I don’t really know how to do this, but I’m going to do some research and learn. I can figure it out.”

Finally, fear. Fear is a big one. We live so much of our lives hiding from fear. Fear is scary and uncomfortable but, it's also a big part of being alive. When I hear a client saying "what if..." I know fear is leading the way. Cause yeah, what if...what if it goes bad? What if it goes great? What if you never find out because you never DO it? Starting thinking of all the good that could come from doing something scary, and you'll be more likely to manifest THAT outcome. Also, think of all the times you did something scary in the past. Even if it didn't work out as you expected, maybe something else came out of it that helped you grow or learn in some way.

To really pull apart what is keeping you stuck can be exactly what you need to move forward. Being able to really identify what it is that is lurking below the surface can be really difficult and uncomfortable. Perfectionism, fear and self-criticism are great at playing together and making us feel bad. It’s time to separate out what helps us be successful and what keeps us stagnant and learn to put it in its place!

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