When everything must be perfect, can anything ever be good enough?
Perfectionists strive for excellence, commit to high standards, are persistent, conscientious, pay attention to detail and are typically highly organised. When you combine this with ability, stability, calmness and reliability, perfectionists have the potential to strive forward while simultaneously thriving.
What type of perfectionist are you?
Those who suffer from a ‘striving while thriving’ perfectionism are lucky, admirable and enviable. Engaging with professional challenges that stretch and push them towards their limits, positive perfectionists build resilience, confidence, self-worth and strong relationships daily. They actively seek out opportunity, are willing to take risks and are ready to jump to action in order to be professionally successful.
But being a perfectionist has a dark side. A side that sees ‘thriving’ swap places with surviving. It is replaced by the fear of failure, fear of the unknown, fear of success or fear of what others may or may not think perfection is. It becomes a roadblock. Holding the unshakable belief that true professionalism means never making ANY mistakes EVER, your harsh inner voice frequently reminds you of your flaws. You live in an all or nothing state that brings unwanted companions of guilt, low self-esteem, shame and self-recrimination.
The reality is, of course, that nobody is perfect all of the time. It is not possible. What is possible, however, is managing your relationship with perfectionism through a perfection cleanse!! No different than any other detox, it is hard and uncomfortable but the outcome is worth it.
Start with ‘enough’ and ‘should’
Pay attention to the words ‘should’ and ‘enough’. Do you ever find yourself thinking something like- ‘I should have reached this stage of my career before now but I am not good enough’, ‘I should have got that promotion but I am not talented enough and anyway I don’t work hard enough’, ‘I should be in a relationship but I am not pretty enough, thin enough, happy enough or successful enough’. The list is endless.
Swap your should’s and enough’s with kinder words. Would you let somebody say these things to or about your family or friends? Build a bank of evidence of the things that you do well, enjoy and like. Start to write down compliments, listen to positive feedback, pay attention to the things that you enjoyed during each day. One thought at a time, take back the joy in your perfectionism.
Closely linked to should and enough, and vital to your perfection cleanse, is the comparison cull. We are all guilty of it. It goes something like, ‘I could never do that’, ‘She’s WAY better than me’, ‘If only I were like her’, ‘I could NEVER do it but she can because she is far smarter than me’. STOP.
You are an individual, unique in your own way and you’re not comparing like with like. You do not know what happens behind anyone else’s social media stream, in the privacy of their own home or the quietness of their own mind. Instead, give yourself the opportunity to be the best version of yourself.
Take 60 seconds every night, just before bed, and ask yourself A Career to Love’s three favourite questions-
- What was the best part of my day?
- What was the worst part of my day?
- What did I learn today?
Focus on you and give yourself the permission to be you in all your glory.
Follow your thoughts with action
Negative perfection is not just a thief of joy but also of time. The time to eat, the time to sleep, the time to exercise. In fact, some perfectionists report not having enough time to go to the toilet during the working day. If perfectionism is a thief of your time, ask yourself a few questions –
- How often and why do you plug in and recharge your phone?
- Do you have a cover and or screen protector for your phone and why?
- Do you download updates regularly and why?
The most likely answers are to make sure that your phone is in good working order for when you need it most.
Now (honestly) ask yourself how often do you look after, recharge and update yourself?
- Did you eat and snack well today?
- Did you physically move?
- Did you laugh and spend time with family, friends or colleagues?
- Did you take time to rest?
These are the human equivalents of phone charging. If you are not doing them, you too, will eventually stop working. Write and display your ‘Recharge & Refuel List’ somewhere very visible. Set a daily reminder on your phone to hold you accountable to them. One step at a time, take the joy back in your perfectionism.
Reframe Mistakes and Failure as Learning Opportunities
Making a mistake does not mean that you are the mistake nor does failure mean that you are a failure. Think back to when you were a child or a baby. How often did you make mistakes or fail before learning to crawl, walk, run talk or sit up? Through the eyes of your childhood self, consider the possibility that mistakes and failures are not fixed or frozen outcomes. Rather consider the potential to learn in them or the opportunity to do things differently the next time. Not an easy reframe but with practice it is possible.
Plan for Option B, C and D
At work, always plan for options B, C and D. If things don’t work out your preferred way, what alternatives are available. Think broadly and brightly. Before starting a new day, a new project or a new task take exactly 3 minutes to brainstorm, doodle, or otherwise work out what you can do if things don’t go to plan. Once completed, write the initials of people beside each alternative that you can call, seek advice or get help from. Putting a plan in place alleviates the fear of failure and puts you in the position to quickly move in a different direction if necessary.
From one recovering ‘surviving perfectionist’ travelling a journey to ‘thriving perfectionism’, good luck!
By Sinead Brady