Sneaky Perfectionism


DiamondIs aiming for ‘good enough’ the best approach?  As with many things, it depends.  But for perfectionists, it might be a wise decision.

We live in a world where a lot is expected of us.  Unless you have a full-time secretary, housecleaner or errand-runner (not bad ideas!) your plate is likely full.  If you’re a parent, add another layer of responsibility to the mix.

There is an unspoken message that we should be able to manage it all beautifully.  It’s our culture of perfectionism.  Picture the lean blonde in her workout clothes, happily jogging after her return home from her corporate job with a smile still on her face.

Compare that to the story I often hear from clients, of arriving home exhausted, loaded with groceries and spending the evening glued in front of a television set ‘recovering’ from the day.

I get it, we all want to strive for goals and extend our best effort – in fact my last post was on that very subject!  But to be fair, I think we also need to look at the other side. Pushing ourselves too hard to achieve some notion of the ideal man or woman, without sufficient support or resources, is a set-up.  And when we fall short, the disappointment in ourselves is anything but helpful.

Perfectionism is sneaky and seductive. Who wouldn’t want to be perfect?  But striving for something that is unobtainable can quickly kill the spirit.  It leads to an immobilizing fear of failure, in which even calculated risks are avoided.  It’s hard to have a life that includes creativity and growth when mistakes aren’t tolerated.  Even worse, a false self is often presented to the world.  This may shield against harsh judgment but could also make it difficult to connect with others.

Setting Standards that Work
Go ahead and strive for high standards.  Don’t settle for less than you can achieve or rest on your laurels.  But at the same time, don’t pick unrealistic standards that could paralyze you.  Know that mistakes are necessary for growth.  Allow yourself to be a beginner in some areas instead of expecting to be an instant expert at everything.

So what does ‘good enough’ look like?   It might be a home that’s organized enough to find your papers but comfortable enough to put your feet up.  At work, it could be turning in a report without belaboring it. (Ask for feedback, make necessary adjustments, but then go ahead and submit it).  Or ‘good enough’ may simply involve saying, “Oh well,” when that inevitable mistake rolls around.

Perfectionism is a distraction from what truly matters in life.  It keeps us small by making us question and criticize ourselves.  It also wastes our precious time.  Find the areas where you get caught in the throes of perfectionism and ask yourself what standard is realistic.  Step away from proving yourself and accept the capable human being you are.