Striving for Perfect

I think we can all have moments of striving for perfection. Some of us though take this a little too far, or even way too far! We set extremely high standards, are quick to find flaws and faults in ourselves and in our efforts, beat ourselves up for even the smallest of perceived “failures”, worry far too much about how others view us, have a difficult time forgiving ourselves, our moments of failure (which are bound to happen, as we are human) are devastating, and ultimately we have a very hard time being happy. How can we be happy with all this negativity? To add insult to injury, others around us don’t seem to “get it” because they don’t see what we see. So, we can begin to feel disconnected from others and frustrated. We can suffer and feel misunderstood and alone in our efforts to be perfect. Worse yet, self-esteem and self-worth may be tied up in what we do instead of what we offer as a human being. We may even end up depressed. Needless to say, there is a tipping point from healthy perfectionism and the unhealthy version.

Any of this sound familiar? You aren’t alone. Now, don’t get me wrong, perfectionism can come in handy. Generally, perfectionists are great students and workers. Frequently, the perfectionist will exhibit: strong attention to details, ability to take on leadership roles, fantastic follow through (God forbid we let anyone down), willingness to go the extra mile in our jobs (school work, volunteer efforts and anything else we tackle in our lives). But these tendencies can also lead to avoidance or procrastination (waiting for the perfect moment). It’s exhausting just thinking about it.

There’s a term in business: cost benefit. It’s pretty self-explanatory. It’s the comparison or analysis of the cost of an undertaking to the related results. For the most part, it’s safe to say as it pertains to perfectionist tendencies, when we tip to the unhealthy side, there is too high of a cost compared to the related benefit. The trick is seeing it when it’s happening and creating balance. Be aware of when the tendency towards perfectionism is taking a toll.

I am guilty of being a perfectionist. Especially in my youth. When I was younger, the perfectionist side of me was constantly struggling to get out of the unhealthy zone. But at this point in my life (after years of practice) I have learned a few tricks to make life far more enjoyable. Hey, it’s good to make peace with our perfectly imperfect world!

I heard a great quote on a show that I very much enjoy, Orange is the New Black. One of the characters, Doggett, said “Life is painful, but suffering is a choice”. Boy, isn’t that the truth!

If you find yourself being a suffering perfectionist, consider asking yourself the questions, listed below. If you end up seeing that you are really functioning in the unhealthy zone, the good news is that with focus and awareness and some effort on your part you can turn this into the healthy version and enjoy all the benefits with much less emotional pain.

  1. What is the cost benefit? Is the extra 5 hours you are spending on this project for school/work really going to improve the result that much? Will any “errors” damage the result to a point it is not usable/good? Are your defined “errors” real or is the very high standard you have set?
  2. What creates your perfectionism? Is it for your self-esteem/worth or do you enjoy the high bars you set for yourself? You gain something from this trait…what is it?
  3. How do you exhibit being a perfectionist? Is it school/work? Is it in competitions or other areas? Is it an overarching way you are or can you just have fun and just “be” for the sake of it?
  4. Is your thinking/view accurate? Now be honest here…this can be tough to answer! Do you think in black and white and only see the negatives in your efforts/performance? Can you see the positives? Do you invalidate your own achievements as though anyone can do what you do (especially indicative of unhealthy perfectionism if what you are doing requires skill)?
  5. Are you honest in your assessment of how others see you? Do friends/co-workers criticize your work and efforts due to numerous mistakes and flaws or is it your own self criticisms? Do others seem frustrated and say that you worry too much or are being a perfectionist? Do you ever hear “Don’t obsess”?
  6. Are you fair in how you see yourself? Are you as loving, compassionate and forgiving towards yourself as you are towards others? Do you tie your worth to what you do, versus what you offer as a person?
  7. Will you wait for the “perfect moment”to proceed with something? Do you get the job done or do you spin (not wanting to take action) because you don’t feel good enough? Is worry about others assessment of you holding you back? Are you creating anxiety from worry about not achieving your high standard, or how others will see you so? Do you delay or try to back out of things? Ever notice if worrying reduces your productivity? Or worse you don’t do something at all?

Hopefully, this will give you something to think about and if you see yourself sliding to the unhealthy side of the perfectionist scale, you have a great starting point to begin change.

Cheers to getting the job done, with excellence, a smile and well-being intact! Get rid of that “all or nothing” attitude and strive to recognize that 80% of the result comes with 20% of the effort (the 80/20 rule). We are more than our output. We are enough.

Be bold, be brave and be well.