Let’s talk about perfectionism…
My trusty excuse for doing everything and nothing, all at once!
I’ve had a love/hate relationship with perfectionism my entire life. I love and hate it in equal measure.
Take this first newsletter. I couldn’t possibly have sent it until every single element of the design was utterly perfect. I mean what would that say about me if I sent out my thoughts without them being all wrapped up in a pretty Substack bow!
Nothing. No one would probably notice, and if they did they’d likely not care. Yet even though I know this, and coach other people around this, I just couldn’t commit to writing anything until everything was ready (subtext perfect)!
I’m pretty sure you don’t need a dictionary definition here. It’s simple enough, to me, nothing can be considered finished or done if it’s not entirely perfect. And if you’re anything like me the definition of perfect is also beyond achievable. Thus setting ourselves up for failure and disappointment.
It can mean we’re highly critical, set unrealistic standards, focus only on results, procrastinate and struggle with low self-esteem, which is hardly surprising given the other things on that list!
So many people struggle with it, all in different ways. For some, it’s based around one thing that always has to be perfect, say Christmas. For others, it only appears in professional settings and for others, it is in everything they do (🙋🏼♀️)!
To truly understand why it’s showing up for us I think we have to trace back to the thoughts and situations that made us first feel the need to be perfect.
Mine goes back to a throw-away comment by a family member - You won’t even be good enough to get a job at the local supermarket. Ouch.
I was about 10 and being a visual person with a photographic memory (great for finding your lost keys, not so great when trying to forget unkind memories) can remember the scene like it was yesterday.
I say this was a throw-away comment, as even though it was intended to hurt, I’m not sure the person knew the lasting impact this comment would have.
Now the easy thing to say to myself would be Look at what you’ve achieved and how It no longer matters, but the brain doesn’t work like that.
The subconscious holds on to these memories and uses them to keep us safe. In my case, it uses them to say Don’t put yourself out there if it’s not perfect, someone might think… (insert unkind thought here).
I do think we can use it to our advantage though.
I know it isn’t as simple as to say trace it back, find the route and all will be ok, I’d have sent this newsletter out weeks ago if that was the case.
Sometimes it can’t be traced back and just seems part of what we do. No matter how much light we shed on it, it will always hide in the shadows and appear when we least expect it. And maybe that’s okay?
Let’s not forget an element of perfectionism can be good, being thorough or detail-orientated can actually make you good at particular jobs and hobbies.
So maybe it’s about noticing when it’s having a significant detrimental effect on your life and approaching it with curiosity.
Shame or being over-critical will make it all feel a lot worse, kindness is your friend here. Looking at the times and occasions/events it shows up and trying to limit those or change your approach to them in the future.
Could it be that perfectionism is not such a bad thing after all?
Maybe if we can notice it in action and be kind to ourselves and put in boundaries where possible it can be something that we see as a useful trait instead of a flaw.
I’d love to hear how it shows up for you? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.
Cheering you on, always
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