Being a perfectionist can often mean you get stuck or don’t complete tasks because you never feel they are up to your own set of standards. A writer would never press send or publish, a designer would never have their new outfits in a shop, a manager returning to the drawing board again and again rather than giving the official go ahead.
Does this sound like you? Are you a perfectionist?
Did you know there is even a term for this fear? For those that have a genuine fear of imperfection and not being good enough? It is called atelophobia, and it is an anxiety disorder.
As a therapist and Writing from The Source workshop facilitator, “perfectionism” is the number one obstacle brought up as getting in the way of completing tasks (procrastination and self doubt are the next two).
People would rather not complete (or even start) new projects than have to deal with failure. Perfectionism unintentionally gets translated in to fear. Rather than holding this as an excuse — it’s a good one I know, isn’t it better to deal with it instead?
So how do we deal with perfectionism? Well the trick is knowing what it means. I pose the question to you — what is perfection? What is perfect? If we are all striving toward it, shouldn’t we know what it is? To better understand this, let’s start with a couple of simple questions.
1. Have you ever read the perfect book? I don’t mean a good book, a great book, an amazing, interesting or enthralling book, I mean the perfect book!
Can you name it?
2. Do you own the perfect outfit? Dress, suit, jeans or skirt. Does this outfit always make you feel good? Is this outfit great for that occasion or is it in itself perfect?
Do you see where I am going with this?
“Perfect,” the way we see it (or think we see it) does not really exist. It is an illusion that we can spend hours, days or years trying to achieve… and it isn’t real. It is a bit like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
As a former photographer I have followed many a rainbow in the hope of finding this pot, seeing the exact point where the rainbow lands on the ground in a stunning golden glow. After far too many attempts, I now know this is not real.
If we continue to hold on to the illusion of “perfection,” we can spend a lifetime feeling like we have failed. So, why are we all striving to reach something that’s not real? Let’s understand it better.
What does perfect mean? What is its actual definition? Here are a few synonyms:
Ideal or great — you can do this. Complete — umm, so finish it. Accurate — check your facts. Many of the synonyms for perfect are achievable. You know you can do this, right? Great, accurate, complete? You would do this every day without even thinking about it.
If you take the word “perfect” out of being the driver of your work (I’m going to write the perfect blog) or the obstacle (but it will never be “perfect” and get published) that stops you, the possibilities are endless.
Without perfection, what is left? For many the answer is “self-doubt.” If the work is not perfect, then maybe it is not that great either, and then what will people think of me?
What we are doing here is debunking the myth of perfectionism, taking out the stress and fear, not lowering your standard of work. Self-doubt is perfectionism’s silent partner, the one we don’t really want to talk about. Judgement! We can say proudly “I am a perfectionist” but we would never exclaim proudly to have self-doubt or be afraid of being judged. We fear this makes us sound weak and small.
The problem is we are trying to please everyone. We want everyone to like us. We want everyone to think we are smart. And like finding the pot of gold, it will never happen. We just can’t please everyone and nor should we try. People are different and have different likes and dislikes and different tastes. That is all OK. Accept it.
Look at what you are wearing right now? Why did you choose that particular outfit? Because you thought everyone would like it? Did you dress for comfort? For appropriateness? Because you simply felt like wearing it? Do you think you are being judged for it? Maybe. Does it matter? No. Some people will like what you are wearing, some will not, and many will be indifferent. This is all OK.
Judgement is part of life and we don’t want to waste too much time worrying about what others think. Do things for yourself. Do them with honesty and integrity. If you do this you don’t need to doubt. Will there be mistakes? Yes, probably. This is OK too. Learn from them.
Perfect, perfectionism, perfectionist — these are all not real. Know this. Stop wasting your time.
Stop the stressing, stop chasing that pot of gold and just get on with it. Publish your blog, have your new clothes range in your favourite shop and make final decisions. Stop worrying and start doing.
Romi Grossberg is a writing therapist, holistic counsellor, facilitator of Writing from The Source workshops and author. ‘Are you a perfectionist?’ is an extract from her upcoming new book, titled ‘The 5-Minute Guide to Emotional Intelligence’ to be released in April 2016. For more information, go to www.romigrossberg.com