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3 Ways Perfectionism Fails You and How to Overcome It

Why we need to stop glorifying perfection and start embracing our fallibility - for the sake of our sanity and happiness.

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scrabble pieces spelling out "done is better than perfect"

What’s the one question you always expect but still dread hearing in a job interview? 

“Ms. Schmidt, what would you say are some of your strengths and some of your flaws?”

Argh!

It sure was one question I prepared for before walking into the lion’s den. You want to have a response ready, but the flaw can’t be so terrible that it scares them away.

So, I chose perfectionism.

I know, don’t laugh!

Isn’t that the answer everyone chooses? Secretly hoping that the interviewer will see it as a strength?

True, I acted like it was a flaw. But deep down, I was proud of it.

However, not anymore.

Perfectionism is this shiny looking promise that you’ll be successful and loved as long as you work your butt off and achieve flawlessness.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Here are three ways perfectionism gets in the way of your wellbeing, and what to do about it.

Perfectionism destroys your productivity

It’s true that perfectionists tend to have a lot of motivation. Since they love to achieve, they’re often bursting with great ideas. So why aren’t they the most productive bunch on your team?

It comes down to the difference between focusing on accomplishments and focusing on failure. Perfectionists do the latter. The very thought of making a potential mistake can be so daunting that they freeze and end up doing nothing at all.

Take me, for example. This year, I decided I finally wanted to launch my freelance writing business. I took courses on SEO and read countless blog posts on crafting compelling headlines. I ended up researching the heck out of it instead of actually writing. I thought that if I prepared perfectly, I was sure to be successful. But despite all my efforts, the need for more reassurance never went away. 

Don’t get me wrong, everyone loves a good mind map and wants to be prepared. But if more time goes into planning than actually doing, you’ve fallen victim to procrastination.

And procrastination is the little sister of perfectionism.

Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

Perfectionism increases mental and physical health issues

The need to be flawless comes from a place of low self-worth. If we feel we aren’t good enough, the way we are, we may overachieve in an attempt to feel worthy.

We try to act perfectly and hide our oh-so-terrible flaws, ending up creating a lot of unnecessary stress for ourselves. The result can be an increase in mental health struggles such as anxiety and depression.

But entertaining perfectionist tendencies messes not only with your mental health. It can also worsen chronic physical conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure.

I became best buddies with perfectionism in my teens. Behaving perfectly and following any rules to the letter gave me a sense of safety. Because if I did nothing wrong, no one would be upset with me, right? But my prize was acute anxiety and depression throughout adolescence.

Yes, this approach kept me safe, but it also kept me safely miserable.

Perfectionism hurts your relationships

As perfectionists, we can be stubborn, rigid in our views, and sensitive to criticism. Suffice to say, being in a relationship with one of us can be tricky.

We have high standards and might try to force these onto our partners or friends. Controlling behaviors are common since they can make us feel on top of things when we’re anxious or uncertain. But trying to control others, or criticizing them for not doing things “right,” can lead to a lot of friction with the people around us.

Just because I want the kitchen to be tidy and looking top-notch right after dinner doesn’t mean that my partner has to feel the same way.

Photo by Andrik Langfield on Unsplash

How to let go 

It’s time to stop bragging about our perfectionism.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to do well and achieve great things. But when the fear of failure becomes our primary focus and we stress over every little thing, it’s time to regroup.

Acknowledging that the perfectionist in you has grabbed the steering wheel again is the first step. It’s okay, try not to beat yourself up over it. After all, there’s no need to be perfect on your journey towards overcoming perfectionism. That part in you only wants you to be safe and well. Understanding that and practicing self-compassion in these moments can go a long way.

I like to be mindful of the thoughts in my head that are telling me to fear failure or that I should do more. Reminding myself that they’re only thoughts and that it’s my choice to believe them or not already eases some of the stress. And when I am less stressed, I make better choices.

Addressing the root cause and improving our self-esteem is the next step. There is no quick fix, but I have found meditation, loving self-talk and surrounding myself with people who lift me up to be most helpful.

After all, making mistakes and messing up are part of the deal of living on this beautiful earth. Make peace with your so-called flaws. Remind yourself that there are so many more wholesome ways to invest your energy. Put that time and energy toward the things that matter to you most. And let your guide be that part of you that is unafraid, and that already knows your infinite worth. 

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