The Perils of Perfectionism

I confess.  I have very high expectations of myself.  I have been that way ever since I can remember.  I expect to be the best at what I do.  I expect to work hard.  I expect to always say the right thing.  I expect to not make a mistake.  I expect not to hurt anyone.  I expect, I expect, I expect. 

(c) Ingram Publishing/Thinkstock

(c) Ingram Publishing/Thinkstock

There is nothing wrong with high expectations.  It is good to work hard, to push yourself beyond where you are now, work towards excellence, or as Michael Hyatt says, “Aim for WOW!”  Low expectations leave us stagnant.  According to Les Brown, “Most people fail in life not because they aim too high and miss, but because they aim too low and hit.” 

However, the expectations we have of ourselves can be completely unrealistic, even impossible.  Mine certainly were.  Here are some observations gleaned from my battle with perfectionism.

Perfectionism isn’t pretty.  We perfectionists think we’re making ourselves better by being this way.  What we often are doing is making ourselves stuck.  And driving others crazy.  Perfectionists are often the biggest procrastinators; making endless small changes to get something just perfect.  What I found at the root of my perfectionism was a mixture of pride and fear.  Pride in thinking that I could ever possibly be perfect.  And fear of rejection if I wasn’t.

Perfectionism isn’t fun.  Have you ever finished a project, and then criticized what you've done for not being good enough?  When I behave like that, I am not particularly fun to be around.  In fact, I don’t even like hanging around with myself.  How much better to appreciate and celebrate what you've done.  That still leaves room for analyzing what could be improved the next time.  In fact, you are more likely to experiment and learn when you have a positive outlook then when you’re negative.

Perfectionism isn’t creative.  We get so fixated on our preconceived idea of perfection, that we are not open to explore other possibilities.  Creativity is snuffed out.  Exploration is impossible.  We cannot see anything except what is directly in front of us.

Perfectionism isn’t healthy.  When I am in the perfectionist zone, I drive myself hard.  The pace becomes punishing.  Exercise slips, as does my sleep.  I don’t deal with stress, and it builds.  I begin to feel edgy, restless, constrained.  As if I am in strait-jacket of my own making.

Perfectionism isn’t wise.  The perfection I was striving for wasn’t actually perfect.  It was skewed in one direction.  For example, I was trying to make my work product “perfect”.  In working so hard to make that perfect, I ignored my husband who wanted and deserved my attention.  Thus, I was attempting to make one aspect of my life perfect at the expense of another.

Throwing off the yoke of perfectionism has made me more successful and happy with myself than perfectionism ever did.  Here are six healthier alternatives to perfectionism.

  1. Embrace your humanity, including your flaws.
  2. Forgive yourself and others.
  3. Laugh at yourself.
  4. Determine your core values and back them up with actions.
  5. Focus on creativity, exploration, and learning.
  6. As a co-worker used to say, “Get ‘er done!”

There is no perfection in this world.  No matter how great we are, there is always room for more growth.  Let’s embrace our imperfections and charge ahead.  Enjoy the journey!

Question:  Are you a recovering perfectionist?  How have you moved past perfectionism?  Share your story by clicking here