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Perfection Paralysis

Oct 03, 2019

"Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence." - Vince Lombardi

Perfectionism, it sounds like such a noble aim doesn’t it?  Yet whether we’re working with or under a perfectionist, or dealing with our own perfectionism, it can be crippling. 

When I’m helping public speakers manage nerves, perfectionism often comes up in the conversation. Whether self-inflicted or traced back to parents who set high expectations, it’s difficult to shake free.  What is intended to push people forward often backfires by loading them up with anxiety and fear.  And yet we do this for something that doesn’t exist.  To be human is to be imperfect, and investing in an illusion that we think is going to make us better only keeps us stuck in place.

It's a paradox

"Perfectionism doesn't make you feel perfect; it makes you feel inadequate." - Maria Shriver

Striving to be our best and striving for perfection are two different things.  One is growth oriented, the other sets us up for disappointment and ultimately causes us harm.
Perfectionists use ‘should’ a lot and tend to think in all-or-nothing terms while fixating on mistakes with intense self-criticism. This leads to procrastination, anxiety, depression, OCD and an unhealthy filter through which we see ourselves and the world. 

Perfectionism as a lifestyle plays out in three ways.  We can hold unrealistic expectations of ourselves, of others, or base our self-esteem on the approval of those we believe are holding us up to a measure of perfection.  Whichever one is in play, someone is getting hurt in the process.  

Perfection = Strength, Imperfection = Weakness.  Really?

"Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage.  Truth and courage aren't always comfortable, but they're never weakness." - Brené Brown

Perfection’s motive is to shield us from vulnerability.  But to be human is to be vulnerable.  To be onstage is to be naked.  Experienced musicians understand that nothing is ever really finished.  You can always come back to something and do it better, or different, but never the same.  Once you’re done practicing and it’s showtime, you have to let it go and be what it is, giving it up to trust.  That’s true courage.  And it demands that we give up our attachment to perfectionism in order to move closer to it.

Perfection is Subjective - so what's the point?

"If you look for perfection you'll never be content." - Tolstoy

Ask a million people, get a million answers.  Few people will be in agreement on what is perfect, so making it the goal is fruitless. 

Perfection is Boring

"To play a wrong note is insignificant; to play without passion is inexcusable." - Ludwig Van Beethoven

Anything that is the same gets boring quick.  Growth doesn’t happen without mistakes and our willingness to make them.  And that makes you interesting.  It means that you’re just like me, and everyone else – relatable.  We like people who are relatable.

Ok, I Lied

"Find the perfection in every moment instead of trying to make every moment perfect." - Donnalynn Civello

Some things are perfect.  A child’s laugh, peonies in the spring, hot coffee on cold mornings, and other moments in time that we truly love.  Moments are perfect and meant to be cherished.  But they are temporal and highly subjective.  Your presentation?  Forget about it unless you choose to love it for what it is, pimples and all. 

Ordinary or Extraordinary You're Perfectly Imperfect

"Don't aim for perfection.  Aim for 'better than yesterday'." - Izey Victoria Odiase

Your performance is not a life-defining act.  From the 30,000 foot perspective perhaps you’re exactly where you need to be, or the only place you can be, navigating a jungle of skills, jobs, personalities and emotions.  We are a part of nature and in continual process.  Making that easier or more difficult is of our own choosing.  So rather than fixating on what’s wrong ask - what do I need to learn, do, create, or communicate right now to the best of my ability, and how can I see this moment as an opportunity for growth?  We can start by reframing our relationship with ourselves, our work, how we view the world and our place in it to be realistic, manageable and kind. 

A 9-Step approach to becoming a recovering perfectionist
-Set realistic goals and don't 'should' on yourself
-Give yourself permission to make mistakes - you'll make fewer of them
-Make a deal with yourself that you'll do your best without promising to be perfect
-Celebrate perfect moments that are infused with meaning and purpose
-Memorize quotes about perfectionism to recite as reminders
-List at least three things that went right before listing areas for improvement
-Restate your purpose to shift attention away from your performance
-Practice celebrating the value of ordinary things, not just extraordinary things
-Remind yourself that perfectionism is an energy-sucking disappointment guarantee, and that the most interesting things that exist have flaws which makes them real, like you and me

"When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability... To be alive is to be vulnerable." - Madeleine L'Engle

Tip for Today

Everyone appreciates the extraordinary, and there is even more collective value to be found in the ordinary.  Do, strive, excel, accomplish, achieve, reach for the sky and then take time to celebrate and appreciate the ordinary, not just the extraordinary.  See if it lightens your day a little.:)

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