Would you describe yourself as even a little bit perfectionistic?
Many people secretly think of perfectionism as being their secret superpower. After all, if I’m a perfectionist, it means I produce work of the highest possible standards, right? Who doesn’t like a perfectionist?
Well… perfectionism. It can be defined as the need to be or to appear perfect. Many people with Imposter Syndrome feelings understand this as they much prefer to appear perfect – or at the very least, good enough – as they fear being found out as a fraud.
But perfectionism implies that perfect is both possible and desirable.
Perhaps the truth is nuanced or contextual. Yes, it is possible to follow a precise set of instructions, complete a calculation, or follow a protocol to the letter – yes, perfection.
But most of the things that we need to do in our lives and our work, things that bring meaning and richness are not so easily defined – a perfect artwork or piece of music – as each is a unique creation, what does perfect even mean in that context?
If I think about writing a paper, an article or even a newsletter – there are so many ways I might express myself but perfection – does that mean there is only one way that ticks this box?
If I think about teaching a lesson, delivering a webinar and all that might entail – my choice of words, metaphor, examples, use of vocal intonation and emphasis, placement of pauses, use of body language to support my intentional delivery of meaning – every time I deliver the exact same content to a different group of students or participants, there will be differences. Is perfect even possible in this context? Won’t “perfect” be different for each and every one of the participants?
So what is perfectionism about?
Is it about doing something to to an external standard of “perfect” or an internal standard of “the best of my abilities”?
Most people who see themselves as perfectionists will admit that, when it comes to “their abilities”, they are probably their own worst critics. They are the ones who always see the room for improvement. Their shortcomings are often screaming to them even before their work is exposed to the view of others.
When nothing we can do is, in our minds, good enough, perfectionism has likely become a means of protection, a shield we use to try to stop ourselves and others criticising us… if someone else sees this work and also sees room for improvement, then I have failed or even, I am a failure and what will people think of me if they see this is the work I produce?
Perfectionism, and the self-criticism that drives it, is our way to try and avoid the judgment of others. Hmmm. That feels different to wanting to do my best work.
More painfully, in pursuit of perfection we often spend less time relaxing, less time with our friends or family, less time in the garden or running or reading. Often the task reaps the rewards and our personal life pays the price.
And the result? Is the task that took our time really improved? Have the changes we made so laboriously late at night significantly increased the impact of the product? In that equation of resources invested and rewards achieved, how does your balance look?
And that brings to mind that wonderful quote from Brené Brown:
“Wholehearted living is about engaging with our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion and connection to wake up in the morning and think, ‘No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough.’.”
Avoiding perfectionism is not about giving up on quality work, high standards or pushing yourself to achieve more. Avoiding perfectionism is about embracing the truth that whatever is done or left undone, I am always enough.
Are you ready to let go, just a little and get your perfectionism under control?
When you finally believe you are enough you find yourself glowing with a quiet sort of confidence. You don’t need to push or perform yet you can be so much more productive, less stressed and yes, proud of yourself.
Because many people with Imposter Syndrome feelings are more than “a little bit perfectionistic” this is a significant theme in my Imposter Syndrome Sources and Solutions programme – launching again later this year (MargaretCollins.com/ISSS).
Do let me know if you want to find out more!