Today’s post is to let you know that you don’t have to be a perfectionist. To give you permission to let go of that part of you. Maybe even to persuade you why I think it could be a good idea to do so. And definitely reassure you that not being a perfectionist doesn’t mean that your standards will be shoddy.
One of the myths of perfectionism is that perfection is achieveable. It isn’t. Of course you can get a perfect test score, or copy a load of data without making a mistake, and they are both fab things to do. But a perfectionist doesn’t stop there. They aim for perfection in everything they do, all the time. And that isn’t possible.
A cliché bit of advice that we are given is that the best answer to the “what is your worst character trait?” job interview question is to say that you are a perfectionist. The idea being that it is a good bad character trait to have, and is one that will appeal to employers. Other than being a cliché, because I guess we have all read that particular piece of advice somewhere, and recruiters will have heard it many, MANY times, I don’t think it is a trait that can be turned into something good.
Because although it means that you set yourself high standards and you will put masses of effort into doing excellent work, which is great for the employer, it also means that you are actually setting yourself impossibly high standards. And that’s not good for an employer. It may also, but not necessarily, mean that you set others impossibly high standards. And for the people you work with, that is even worse.
As coach Ruby McGuire says: “There’s nothing wrong in wanting to do a really good job or creating something perfect. It’s when the judgement, analysis and criticism kick in that it becomes a problem. It’s when it stops us in our tracks, preventing us from moving forward that we need to recognise it’s holding us back.”
Perfection is held up by society as a good thing, the best outcome. Have a look at this video which discusses the culture of perfectionism during the first few minutes. (And watch it to the end as it is a really REALLY good video on how perfectionism holds us back.)
I truly believe that we can’t be both happy and a true perfectionist. When we are perfectionist we beat ourselves up when we get things wrong. We pile enormous pressure on ourselves all the time. All the time. And are frightened of putting ourselves out there in case we get it wrong.
And this is why I also don’t believe that perfectionism leads to success. Many perfectionists can’t be successful because they won’t take the risks that they need to take in order to get there, just in case they fail. Can you imagine that? How many talented people are there out there who work so hard and know so much but won’t get the success they are aiming for as perfectionists precisely because they are perfectionists?
One of the myths of perfectionism is that it is something we should even aspire to. But have a look at this article, which might change your mind as it discusses research which links perfectionism to anxiety and even suicide.
So, perfectionism holds us back, makes us unhappy, puts us under enormous pressure and makes for a nightmare colleague.
But what if we can choose to not be perfectionist?
The good news is that we can. Perfectionists can change (if we want). We can choose to let go of our perfectionism, all the while maintaining high standards, rather than impossible ones. It takes effort as it involves a complete mindset shift, but it is doable.
I had some perfectionist traits in the past. They stopped me from doing all sorts of things, but what I am most grateful for having moved past it, is the fact I no longer beat myself up over mistakes. I just take the lesson and move on. I don’t dither over hitting send on the newsletter (and happily read the emails which come back pointing out the odd spelling mistake without getting upset at myself). I don’t go over and over conversations thinking I should have said this, I should have said that. And I am much more tolerant of mistakes made by others – one of the perfectionism traits I had, was setting as high standards for others as much as myself.
And since I worked on my perfectionism I am a happier person, less anxious, kinder to myself and others every single day. I am more productive, less hesitant. I still have high standards, and like to challenge myself. But I forgive my errors far more easily.
Come and join The Mindset Hub if you would like to discuss perfectionism and other mindset related topics further.