In A Perfect World

Confession – I am a recovering perfectionist. Recovering as in I work on it daily…everyday. In some ways it is like an addiction – it is a daily struggle to stay on track and not slip back into that old habit.  I struggle with the tendency to be perfect in all that I do each and every day and I struggle to remind myself that I am not perfect – never have been and never will be – and that’s okay.  It’s hard, to say the least, and I am not even sure I know how or when I learned to be this way, but at some point in my childhood perfectionism became a thing for me and I have been fighting with it ever since.

From what I say to what I do and how I do it, I am in a constant battle with myself.

  • * I write in pencil mostly so I can erase things if they aren’t neat enough or organized on the paper in a neat and orderly fashion.
  • * I will redo projects, writings, lists, etc. numerous times if they are not “perfect”.
  • * I obsess over what I am going to say in scheduled meetings…and you can be sure I will critique what I said after the fact with a fine tooth-comb.
  • * I will even go so far as to write out things I am going to say in meetings if I think it is important enough to make sure I say the right words.
  • * When I write my blog, I write and rewrite over and over in a search for the perfect words.
  • * I have put off doing many things (i.e. projects, life goals, etc.) in my life because not everything was “perfect”.

That’s just a sample of the ways in which my perfectionism manifests itself daily…just enough of a sample to give you an idea of what I am talking about.

And if I’m not perfect, which of course is all the time, then that ego voice in my head has a field day telling me what a horrible person I am because I can’t get anything right. It is a crazy, vicous cycle that for years plagued me with little relief. But in the past 3-4 years I have slowly come to accept and understand that, like everyone else in the world, I am not perfect, that I will not do things perfectly, and that despite my imperfections the world will continue to spin on its axis and life will go on.  I will be fine, as will others around me, despite my imperfections.  It’s a matter of reprogramming my brain to relax in the face of imperfection and ultimately to stop expecting it altogether.

“Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.” – Salvador Dali

Here’s what I have found to work for me when I feel that perfectionst tendency kicking in:

  1. Stop and breathe.
  2. Step back and ask myself how big is this thing really…what’s the worst that can happen if I don’t do/say this perfectly.
  3. In extreme cases, I may ask for a second opinion from a trusted friend or colleague on how big of a deal a lack of perfectionism might be in this case.
  4. Most importantly, I give myself permission to be human…which means I give myself permission to not be perfect.

Being perfect is not the same as wanting to do excellent work. Wanting to do excellent work is a wonderful and important goal, but we have to find a way to release ourselves from the stranglehold of perfectionism in the midst of trying to do excellent work. Trying your hardest and doing your best should be the goal, not being flawless or otherwise risk being subjected to internal ridicule.  We thrive and improve from hard work, determination, positive support and motivation, not from listening to that demeaning voice in our head beating us up for not doing something perfectly.

I know I am not alone in this battle with perfectionism. I have met enough others just like me to know perfectionism is a bit of an epidemic in our society. So the good news is there are plenty of us out there to be able to support one another in a quest to let go of the hold perfectionism has on our lives.  Each one of us is perfect in our own way, so there is no need to compare ourselves with some external, unrealistic measure of perfection.  Simply work hard, do your best, live a positive and powerful life and allow yourself to be perfectly imperfect.  Strive to make tomorrow better than today, don’t strive to make it perfect.

“Strive for continuous improvement, instead of perfection. – Kim Collins