Taming your inner perfectionist
I cringe. All sorts of judgmental narratives come up. Did he not spell check? There are mistakes on every slide! Was this a last minute thing? Seriously? Good money for this and clearly, the presenter did not pay much attention to detail.
Deep down I am a bit envious. What a relief it must be to just do something and not hassle over a gazillion details, but rather trust that it is good enough as it is.
Only perfect is good enough
I, on the other hand, would exhaust myself making sure that everything was tip top. Checking every possible angle, double checking facts, reading, doing research, questioning the quality all the time. Asking for input – but not really trusting what was said. Particularly if they suggested it was good enough. I could spend hours, days and weeks without really getting anywhere because it is never good enough. Only perfect is good enough.
Insanity in action
It is pretty clear that this is insane when you look at it objectively, yet it is the reality of quite a few people. Being a perfectionist is hard work. No matter how much effort, skill, knowledge and time you put in you will always be just at the outside of reaching perfection. And on the rare occasion that you do hit perfect, it is shallow, alienating and puts you in a category where it is hard to reach you.
You have miraculously created estrangement – the opposite of what you wanted in the first place. You get bone-tired over time. Feeling resentment and being lonely. If you are a project manager, you work longer hours than anyone else to make sure all is ok. You might delegate but you double and triple check to make sure the work is ok. If you are a student, you read every single page of every single book, rehearsing sentences even, to make sure you have it all stored in your brain. Or you go in the other direction and procrastinate, ending up not doing anything out of fear that it won’t be good enough. That happens too.
Lack of trust
The perfectionist is a tough fellow when he calls the shots. Whatever talent or skill you have, it will be downplayed because the perfectionist can never be satisfied. There is always something more, something else you can do. Just a little more of this, that or start from scratch. He works hard and with stellar attention for you to be at your best. His fault, however, is that he fails to recognize when you are. He has no concept for good or good enough. He can only see what is potentially next, not what is here and now. Failing to pause, failing to be objective. He does not trust. Scared to be found out, be lesser than, and to be cast aside, he forces himself on.
What if the stickler is protecting you?
There are some pretty important values behind this hard-working stickler for quality. He really wants you to shine and be successful. There is a heartfelt wish for you to be proud of what you do and who you are. Maybe most importantly, he wants to protect you and keep you from potential failure. Perceived failure is something he is very, very uncomfortable with and wants you to avoid at all cost.
What to do
The perfectionist is far from perfect and here is where you come in! You are the one in control and you are the one who decides how much you chose to listen to the perfectionist in you. When you hear his voice, – you know the words and you know the feeling they give you, stop for a moment and ask: What about this is useful? Where might I need to pay attention and what can I decide to differently this time?
Learn to say no
The big fat lie is that the perfectionist is right. He is not. How do you know? There is a complete lack of fun when he enters the game. You become tense, narrow-minded with tunnel vision, dead set in your ways, not willing or able to listen to others. You need to recognize your signals for when the perfectionist enters. Then say “thank you for wanting to make sure everything is ok, but really, I’ve got this handled. You cannot stay here, you need to go. I’ll check in with you later if I need to.”
How far can you lower the bar?
How far can you lower the bar? Ouch…that is such a scary thing to even think about. I can almost hear you scream and shudder with disgust as the thought of lowering the bar flies through your brain. “If I lower the bar, it will not be good enough!! If it is not good enough, it is bad! I will fail! People will think bad things and judge me. It will be hard to be proud of what I did…” I hear you. I know. And it is not true.
Choose a new story. One where you can lower the bar. It may take some getting used to. That is ok. One tiny step at a time. Not too small though. You need to feel it, know it and challenge yourself a bit. Do it and discover that you will survive!
Will you become sloppy?
With a perfectionist inside, you can pretty much trust that you will never be a sloppy person doing things halfway. You will always want to deliver quality and set a high standard. There is however a huge difference in setting a high standard and holding the bar so high you will never reach it. Or overstretch trying.
The risk of burnout
Being a perfectionist is really hard work. You risk burnout with emotional, mental and/or physical fatigue. You miss out on joy and you estrange others as you play in a league of your own.
I trust this is not what you want to do. I know you take a certain pleasure in being proud of what you do and to overdeliver on expectations. You can still do that! Please don’t stop! This is what makes you special and sets you apart. At the same time, you need to find a healthy balance recognizing what is what so that the perfectionist does not run the show. Be more conscious, recognize the signs of going overboard, moving from good enough to the insanity mentioned earlier.
Risk of burnout is why I decided to make a change and tame my inner perfectionist. I got really, really tired of my own struggle and I was fed up with the voice inside saying “just a little more, just one more proofread, just tweak that sentence, or fix that image or …”. You know how it goes. It is a huge relief being in control of that voice and I can honestly say I take great pleasure in posting “good-enough” articles.
If you are fed up with your inner perfectionist calling the shots and if you feel the signs of fatigue, it is time to do some taming.
Taming the perfectionist
- Start to recognize the signs of your inner perfectionist calling the shots
- Decide who gets to decide. You, or the perfectionist
- Train yourself to “under-deliver”
- Discover that you will survive – even when things are not perfect
- Define what is good, good enough and the desired level the perfectionist would like to hold
- Cut yourselves (and others) some slack
- Say “no”
- Trust yourself
Last but not least. The perfectionist is only an aspect of you are, or a role you can step in and out of. Don’t collapse the role of the perfectionist with all of who you are because you are so much more! Learn to tame the perfectionist and discover the freedom, joy, and strength that comes with breaking free!
Cheering you on!