I admit it. Sometimes I’m a perfectionist. I come from a long line of perfectionists. I used to have to do everything perfectly. I hated making mistakes and worse yet, I had little tolerance for other people making mistakes. Being a perfectionist adds unnecessary stress and sometimes good enough is good enough.
Perfectionism Comes From Fear
It’s true, and it may not just be one fear that drives it. It could be fear of failing, fear of criticism, or simply fear of making a mistake. So, in order to prevent whatever it is that is you are afraid of, you try to be perfect. But what if it isn’t perfect? What is the worst that can happen? In some cases it may be important, but most cases, not being perfect may not even be noticed.
I did a good amount of public speaking in my career: presentations, meeting facilitation, town halls, training, etc. I remember when I first started I was very nervous about speaking in front of the crowd. I thought since they all had so much more work experience they would think I didn’t know what I was talking about. I wanted my presentation to be perfect. I checked every slide, every handout. I stood in front of the mirror practicing, practicing – and yet, that morning I was still nervous. All that checking and practicing did nothing to make me feel better, in fact, it made me feel worse!
Luckily for me I had an amazing mentor early in my career. Instead of giving me the “picture them in their underwear” speech (that we all may remember from the Brady Bunch), she reminded me that the audience doesn’t know the material I am presenting. They are there to learn from me. I am the one with the knowledge. She reminded me not to worry about giving the perfect presentation, just make sure I mention the important take away points. I immediately began to relax. I didn’t have to memorize the presentation so that it was perfect. I could talk to the audience. My presentation went well and it was great start to my career. OK, but I was still a perfectionist for long time.
Honestly, for a long time being a perfectionist served me well. There is an upside to perfectionism. Perfectionists are driven.They work hard and they don’t give up. They are detail oriented and have high standards. They are often very successful. Although I in some obscure way like the idea of being a perfectionist because it forces me to hone my skills, there is also a downside, because:
- Perfectionists are not fun to be around – Who likes to be micromanaged or judged?
- Perfectionists create unnecessary stress for themselves and others.
- Perfectionists may only see things from their point of view (because it’s perfect, of course)
Are you trying to be less of a perfectionist? Here are a few things to realize:
Everyone’s Priorities are Different – Some things just aren’t as important to everyone. I used to think since work was a priority for me, it must be for everyone but that’s simply not the case. If I lived my life by other people’s priorities, I wouldn’t happy and the same holds true if they were to live their life by mine. Just because someone has a different set of priorities doesn’t mean they are better or worse – they are just different. I have one friend who has a carefree life. He doesn’t work full-time, never has. When he needs some money he’ll work and when he is comfortable, he stops. I often wonder who is smarter. The person who works really hard and is stressed or the one that doesn’t put money as a priority and is relaxed.
Everyone’s Skills and What Makes Them Happy is Different – Perfectionists can’t always understand if someone doesn’t do things as well as they do. Hopefully, no one will ever ask me to sing, change a tire, or spend an entire day shopping. I think they would be very disappointed in my ability to do any of that. Don’t judge people by their differences because everyone likes and is good at different things.
Sometimes, You Need to Do Things Perfectly – but not every time and not every thing.
No one Is Perfect – So stop trying to be. It’s OK to do somethings well and others not so well (or not at all). Also, don’t expect other people to be perfect either.
Letting Go of Being a Perfectionist is NOT Easy – There are still things I need to work on. Filling out forms is one of the worst tasks for me still. I typically find the instructions to be poorly written and often feel if I don’t complete it correctly something terrible will happen. I try hard not to be a perfectionist anymore, in fact I’m a little bit of a perfectionist about that.
Are you a perfectionist about some things?
(Photo Credits: Intentional Happiness)