Do you brag about being a perfectionist or aspire to perfectionism?

Many of us do. Usually, when people refer to themselves as being a perfectionist, the label is worn as a badge of honor. It is something I aspired to be, feeling like the habit of perfectionism was important to getting my work done well. I had never heard anyone say, “I can’t get my work done because I am a perfectionist.” Instead they would suggest that, while their work product might be delayed, it was just because they were reviewing their already great work to make sure it was perfect. Here is the reality.

There is no such thing as perfect. And even though projects are delayed with the implication that the extra time makes them perfect, they aren’t.  Perfection doesn’t exist. And that’s okay!

Identifying Perfectionism

According to Merriam-Webster, medically speaking, perfectionism is “A disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable; especially : the setting of unrealistically demanding goals accompanied by a disposition to regard failure to achieve them as unacceptable and a sign of personal worthlessness.”

Aspiring to work with a perfectionist attitude, then, puts us in a position to feel like failures because we weren’t able to achieve the impossible. Not a great way to get things done, or feel good about the work you produce, is it? 

I usually make a typo in every email or text. Auto-correct doesn’t help. Neither does a failure to proofread. But at least I get the email or memo or text out there! It would be easy to spend time and energy worrying about these errors, but instead I remember that I’m not an editor, hope I’m forgiven for my mistakes, and move forward knowing that I can excel at building the relationships and accomplishing the tasks I was sending the text for in the first place. 

Where do you see yourself on this spectrum? Are you setting impossible demands on yourself, and starting to see your overall happiness or your role at work change because of them? 

According to Psychology Today, there are some identifiable signs that someone might be a perfectionist: “Perfectionists set unrealistically high expectations for themselves and others. They are quick to find fault and overly critical of mistakes. They tend to procrastinate a project out of their fear of failure. They shrug off compliments and forget to celebrate their success. Instead, they look to specific people in their life for approval and validation.”

Whether this feels familiar to you right now, or you have noticed yourself aspiring to habits that will eventually lead to you feeling like this, take a moment to be softer on yourself. Excelling at what you do means your time is best spent developing new skills, practicing the skills you already have, and enjoying the way you do what you do. Trying to achieve a mythical perfection is just not with it. 

What to Do Now

For us to feel our most fulfilled in our careers and in our lives, it’s important that we do celebrate successes. That we do know when to submit our projects, to turn work “off.” That we don’t feel overwhelmed, or like something is wrong with us, when we make small mistakes. To get started as you move beyond perfectionism, consider these techniques:

  • Write a list of your recent accomplishments and allow yourself a few minutes to feel deeply happy about what you have done. If this feels awkward at first, consider starting with a gratitude list, with a focus on opportunities and things you have worked hard for.
  • Begin to reframe your internal narrative of failure. The next time you feel like you did something “imperfect,” take ten minutes to think about what went well. Or, re-focus your “failure” as a natural part of the process, an opportunity to learn rather than something that causes you pain. 
  • Give yourself early deadlines and stick to them. Don’t overwhelm yourself with pressure, but do give yourself the opportunity to prove your fear of failure wrong: You have it in you to accomplish your tasks both well and on time.
  • Try delegating tasks and projects, beginning with simple ones as you get used to it, and moving on to those projects you’ve always felt only you can do. Feel the relief of letting go!
  • Schedule a call with me! With a free 30-minute sample coaching session, we can chat about the patterns that are making you feel stuck. Together, we can help you begin to feel UNSTUCK from the expectations of perfectionism, and transition to satisfaction with a job well done.

Barb Mason, Coach

I am a coach and jewelry designer. At UNSTUCK Coaching, I help middle-agers make changes toward the most fulfilling employment experience. As my own first coaching client, I know what it takes to get UNSTUCK.

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