I have a confession… I’m a recovering perfectionist.
I lived so many years not wanting to start a project because I knew I may not be able to finish it. I was unwilling to take risks that might explode my business, team or personal life because I was paralyzed by fear and quite frankly, a disbelief in my own abilities. Sound familiar at all?
Yeah, you’re not the only one.
When you are a high achiever, this little perfectionism monster is something that you may be struggling with unknowingly. For some reason, it seems to affect high achievers the most. The problem is, it can affect your performance in big ways when it comes to work and professional life and it’s so sly it can go undetected.
The major contributing factor to perfectionism is comparison. It is so easy to compare yourself, your work, and even your life to others especially in the modern world with mass social media consumption.
But as the old saying goes, comparison is the thief of all joy. It breeds thoughts and beliefs that you have to be perfect in order to measure up. But I’m going to give you some shocking news…nobody is perfect!
Yeah, I know you know that, but it’s really easy to say that and really hard to remember and even harder to actually believe, especially when you’re paralyzed by feelings associated with failure.
But let’s get to some cold hard facts here. It’s not fair to you to compare yourself and your work to that of others- especially when these ‘standards’ may not even be real!
Let us remind you, what you see on social media and the conversations you have with people are rarely about their failures and what they’re struggling with. It’s always the sunshine and roses that are presented instead of the real-life blood, sweat and tears that are really happening behind the scenes in their life.
The problem is, we subconsciously start to compare ourselves to the standards of this little perfect picture of what we see in other people’s lives thinking we aren’t measuring up. This gives false standards not only for our self, but those around us.
When you live your life in constant comparison, satisfaction with anything seems elusive. Your patience is tapped, you’re snapping at your employees, and it brings a level of anger that is always bubbling under the surface that you think may not be affecting you, but rest assured it is!
And it’s affecting those around you.
Your stress levels dramatically increase. Being constantly worried that nothing is ever ‘good enough’ robs you of ever feeling satisfied with yourself and your work, creating a vicious cycle in your mind of always feeling like you need to do more — you will never be done and you will never rest. And that only leads to burnout.
Secondly, when you are always striving for perfection, you do not feel comfortable taking risks, effectively stifling your creativity. Perfectionism is fueled by an intense fear of failure and you will adopt a mindset of If I can’t do it perfectly, then I won’t do it at all.You prevent yourself from taking risks and the ability to think outside of the box, thus preventing you from achieving growth and innovation, both of which are necessary for success. Imagine what the world would be like if Edison was allergic to failure?? Gah!
Here’s the sneaky part of perfectionism…it will impact how you view others. We think it only affects us, but the truth is, perfectionists constantly judge themselves, and our self-image is reflected onto how we view others. If you are nit-picky with yourself and the work that you do, the same tendencies will come out towards others increasing levels of passive aggressiveness and criticalness. We can only give what we have for ourselves, and if judgment is what we have for our self, we’re looking through the judgment lens when dealing with other people.
The same concept applies to how you receive feedback. Rather than taking critical feedback in an objective manner knowing it doesn’t mean anything about who you are, you will take it as a personal attack because you tie your self-worth to how others view you. You believe that you are worthy only if things go perfectly, if people like you, if you do a good job. This directly impacts the way that you interact with others, and newsflash, you are not everyone’s cup of tea!! And that’s ok!
Additionally, it can make it hard for you to delegate your work — which is an essential characteristic as a leader, especially if you are holding yourself to high standards in areas that you struggle with. The secondary impact of this is that you are not empowering those around you to learn and grow either as you’re too busy being a control freak. Think of all the growth the people around could have if you’d give them a chance to mess things up! Out of the mess will come confidence and learning that can’t be manufactured, it can only be taught by experience.
Here’s the good news, and take me as an example of overcoming this, perfectionism does not have to be this never-ending cycle of self-doubt and quite frankly, self-sabotage.
So, what’s the secret to achieving this relief?Reframe your perspective!
In order to get over the habit of perfectionism, shift your mindset. Rather than placing emphasis on how you complete things, celebrate that fact that you are trying. Not everyone is going to think you or your work are perfect, so you must learn to be satisfied with the outcome you have created.
Celebrate your wins, no matter how small. This is one of the things I require every single one of my clients to do, whether it be a divorce client, and executive client, or C-Suite teams. I was just in with a C-Suite team last week and they had fallen out of the habit of celebrating the small wins of each team member. I put a hard stop to the meeting, called out the success, and asked why everyone wasn’t celebrating. They all looked at me with that infamous deer in the headlights look!! They had just fallen out of the habit. And celebrating successes is just that, it’s a habit that has to be formed and continually exercised or you will forget to recognize your wins, let alone celebrate them.
Secondly, redefine what failure means to you. One of my favorite colleagues always says, “fail faster.” When we reframe what failure is and no longer think of it as this big scary doom and gloom that ruins our life, we are now able to tap into our creativity and come up with solutions we may have never thought of had our walls of perfectionism stayed up.
Always ask yourself, “What’s the worst that can happen?” This question alone brings your reeling thoughts back to being grounded, realistic thoughts. We often think up the worst-case scenario, or fear some big scary consequence, when the facts are it really isn’t that big of a deal.
As a leader, it’s really important that the people around you see that you aren’t perfect, so think of this as a game, an opportunity to show those around you that ‘failure’ can be turned around and good things can come out of it. This opens the door for them to be who they truly are and gives them permission to take risks they otherwise may not out of fear of failure. When you and your team know it’s safe to fail, sit back and watch just how creative they get with solutions and how willing they are to take risks to try something new. That’s how all things are invented, because someone was bold and courageous enough to take the risk!
Lastly, remind yourself that you have gotten through every single ‘failure’ so far in life or you wouldn’t be where you are. You have a 100% success rate of making it through, so go take a risk, redefine what failure means to you, and live at your best leaving perfectionism in the dust!
By reframing your perspective, you will come to terms with what you can and cannot control, ultimately giving yourself permission to fail- it’s just a matter of redefining failure in a way that limits the amount of true failures you have in life.
But let us be clear, reframing your perspective is not easy and you have to be willing to put in the work! Just like the example of the C-Suite team failing to celebrate, everyone can fall out of the habits and needs someone on the outside to not only recognize your wins when you can’t yourself but celebrate with you like a boss!
Here at Modig Leadership, we provide you with the skills and tools necessary to reframe your perspective and set yourself up for success. And oh yeah, we celebrate every step along the way with you!!
Message us at firstname.lastname@example.org today to learn more about how we can help you or your team shed the prison and limitations of perfectionism!
Brenda Lee is a Leadership Development and Team Building expert to some of the world’s most exciting entrepreneurs and professionals who have all the trappings of success but have hit a barrier they are ready to breakthrough.