No one ever blamed me for being a perfectionist. Quite the opposite actually. Growing up I thought not being a perfectionist was a weakness, something that somehow made me less intellectual than others. While I noticed the details, the lack of a desire to make every single detail perfect seemed wrong at times. I confused perfectionism with not giving my best effort. While not a perfectionist, the desire to be one caused anxiety. Even though I felt like I was giving my best because I was focusing on the goal, the social norms didn’t view “quick but beneficial” results the same way. But then, I started to notice the outcomes.
Not a Perfectionist
Coloring in the lines looked nice, but wasn’t important. “Did the picture look good?” That was the result that motivated me. Being able to make two birthday cards for my friends instead of one motivated me.
In college, my perspective was the same. “Did my efforts in studying help me toward my ultimate goal of graduating?” I learned for a specific purpose, not for the sake of being #1 and getting the best marks. Graduating university in only 2.5 years helped me help others quicker. Some might say that defeats the purpose of education. Yet, I never stopped learning. It was liberating and the results have created many opportunities. The greatest being I met my wife because I finished early…
Professionally, I ask myself everyday “How are we making our customers life better?” Every action is guided by that question. It is not about looking the best, unless of course that makes our clients life better. It is not about winning awards, unless of course that makes our clients life better. The focus is not on internal validation, but outward execution.
Perfection is Not Real
Everything can be improved. The lie of perfection creates many problems. The more we believe the deception of perfection, the more stress, anxiety, and pain we feel. This pain is often self-inflicted.
Besides not being attainable, perfectionism is selfish. Both professionally, and more important personally, perfectionism ruins relationships. It is inward instead of outward focused. It is about you and your needs. Whereas, getting the job / task / project done quickly so it can help others is the by-product of empathy. Understanding what others are feeling and needing so you can give them relief is important. Give them solutions so you know that you are balancing speed with results.
Hiding Behind Perfectionism
When our real focus is the results, we can forget about trying to be perfect and focus on delivering exceptional outcomes. We need to pay attention to details, yet we cannot use the details as an excuse.
“Perfectionism is often an excuse for procrastination.” – Paul Graham
When we realize that helping others is more important than looking good, we will help so many more people. We will be able to listen more because we stop “fixing” everything. We will be able serve more people, because you can never get time back.
Sometimes we are afraid of what others will think. The entire foundation of this deception is selfishness. We shield ourselves behind perfectionism to not have face the criticism of the real world. The idea that others can hurt us makes us feel we need some sort of protection.
Brene Brown said it best:
“Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be our best. Perfectionism is not about healthy achievement and growth; it’s a shield.”
Finding Balance: Journaling, Meditation, and Gratitude
The more we increase our ability to forgive ourselves, the less we will desire to hide behind perfectionism. We will find balance. Understanding our skills and strengths will allow us to determine the level of detail we need to create balance in our life.
Perfection often causes anxiety.
Journaling, Meditation, and Gratefulness are the best ways to overcome anxiety. As we do these things we will forgive ourselves more, we will see others for who they are, we will be calmer, and we will be able to develop empathy.
The less anxious we feel, the more we will be at peace with our work so we can help others by sharing it with them.
Perfect is not real. Nothing will ever be perfect. Everything can always be improved. For those who struggle with perfectionism, it is a massive battle to fight. The more we focus on others, the less we will have a desire to hide behind false ideals of perfect. Taking the time to journal, meditate, and show gratitude will solve most problems. Especially the anxiety that comes with perfectionism.