Pushing yourself to be perfect is not only unrealistic, it’s just downright unhealthy.
Today in the podcast I am talking about the ways that we can feel more content and live life well by allowing things not to be perfect.
As a lawyer who runs a business and a large team of lawyers, perfectionism is something that I have to deal with on a daily basis.
I don’t typically struggle with perfectionism, which is an unusual trait in my field of work, because many lawyers do. Instead, I work with a bunch of them and the majority share these perfectionist traits.
I guess it is because they are mostly high achievers and academic types. Then when we are practicing law, we are dealing with high risk, from the general public’s very high expectations, even down to a typo, spelling error or God forbid getting a name wrong! Generally speaking, it is in a lawyer’s blood to strive for perfectionism and I have a team of lawyers who are very much in the category of perfectionists. This will be the same in many fields of work.
However, no matter what you do in life, due to society applauding high standards of excellence, as a culture we have become even more invested in for perfection.
No matter what walk of life you are from perfection holds us back from living our best lives, moving forward and achieving what we want. It can prevent us for accepting ourselves, loving the bodies we have, where we live or finding a loving relationship.
Your perfectionism is keeping you from being perfect.
Before I go further, I did a little research to find out what exactly perfectionism is or isn’t. And who else to look to but my favourite researcher Brene Brown.
So what does Brene say about perfectionism?
This is directly from Brene Browns book Overcoming Perfectionism where she explains what it is:
- Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of blame, judgement, and shame.
- Perfectionism is an unattainable goal. It’s more about perception than internal motivation, and there is no way to control perception, no matter how much time and energy is spent trying.
- Perfectionism is addictive because when we invariably do experience shame, judgement, and blame, we often believe it’s because we weren’t perfect enough. Rather than questioning the faulty logic of perfectionism, we become even more entrenched in our quest to look and do everything just right.
- Perfectionism actually sets us up to feel shame, judgement, and blame, which then leads to more shame, judgement, and blame: It’s my fault. I’m feeling this way because I’m not good enough.
Then she goes on in the book to describe what perfectionism is not.
- It’s not striving for excellence. It’s not about healthy achievement and growth. Perfectionism is a defensive move.
- It’s not the self-protection we think it is. It’s a 20-tonne shield we lug around, thinking it will protect us, when in fact it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from being seen.
- Perfectionism is not self-improvement. Perfection is, at its core, about trying to earn approval. Early praise for achievement and performance has become a dangerous and debilitating belief system: “I am what I accomplish and how well I accomplish it, please, perform, perfect, prove.”
- Perfectionism is not the key to success. In fact, research shows perfectionism hampers achievement and is correlated with depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis, or missed opportunities. The fear of failing, making mistakes, not meeting people’s expectations, and being criticised keeps us outside the arena where healthy competition and striving unfolds.
- Lastly, perfectionism is not a way to avoid shame. Perfectionism is a function of shame.
Trying to be perfect in every way, actually makes you less perfect and not only that but it also prevents you from living well… It holds us back!
Lets get stuck into the reasons that perfectionism can hold us back and how to overcome it.
Trying to be perfect is exhausting and stressful! Perfectionism leads to the risks of both your physical and mental health. Physical exhaustion and burnout are common side effects when you are a perfectionist. Brene Brown cites that it can lead to depression and anxiety. When you are stressed because you are struggling to be perfect, it can lead to self-medicate, which leads to further issues.
Perfectionists find it difficult to delegate. Listen although you might not want to hear this.. you can’t possibly do everything, it takes a village or a team. To be able to build a team, e.g. in your business you need to be able to let go and allow others to step up. The reason my business has been so successful is because I empower other people to do their work, is that scary sometimes, yes… because you know they will make mistakes and it won’t be perfect and that responsibility lands on you. But without doing that I would be trapped in my business doing all the things. In the last year I have hired a manager, this has meant that I have had to allow her to manage the team, in her way within my care for now. You have to trust! The truth is that most people want to do a good job, but it won’t be exactly how you think. It is the same with parenting, your spouse isn’t the same as you, they will do it differently, let them. I see this trait is many business owners and this is why they can’t scale their business, or as a mum why they are run ragged. Let go.
Being Paralyzed By Perfectionism. Brene Brown, says that perfectionism can ensure that we miss opportunities because we’re too afraid to put anything out in the world that could be imperfect. Is this you? What are you sitting on right now that you are afraid to put out there because it isn’t perfect? A website ready to go, business idea or post you want to share on your socials, get it out there. Perfectionists don’t want to make a mistake, risk failing, or disappoint anyone? The problem is that it prevents you from living your life how you want and making an impact on the world.
Not being able to be authentically you. If you’re a perfectionist, you may be holding yourself back from showing up in the world as your amazing, authentic self. Perfectionism is about being perceived as perfect. Since you cannot control other’s people perception, perfection then is simply unattainable, you are never going to please everyone. So don’t even try, just be you.
Perfectionism is a form of people-pleasing. Brene Brown points out, “Perfectionism is, at its core, about trying to earn approval and acceptance. Most perfectionists were raised being praised for achievement and performance. Somewhere along the way, we adopt this dangerous and debilitating belief system: I am what I accomplish and how well I accomplish it.”
The truth is that you are never going to please everyone. You can try but you will fail! In my business, I have now a team of 14 and there is absolutely no way that I can please everyone. The times that I have gone out of my way to do that, lead to pain and regret in the end. Nothing is perfect, there is no perfect solution that will suit everyone, we have to accept this about life. So don’t go trying to please everyone, in the end you will be exhausted both physically and emotionally and that isn’t good for you.
Perfectionism can lead to procrastination. How many times have you used the excuse that it is not finished yet or that you have relied on the fact that in your heart you know it is never going to be finished AKA perfect, so it is a tool for you to procrastinate? You may find yourself endlessly refining the same territory rather than introducing anything new or moving forward. All because it is not perfect.
Living by Perfectionism can make it difficult for people to relate to you. In her book Brene Brown calls perfectionism a shield. It’s near impossible to obtain someone’s loyalty and trust if they cannot relate to you as a human being. The more relatable you are, the more liked you will be and the more people will trust you. Does your perfectionist traits hold you back in this sense? Go on do something crazy and put an unfiltered Sunday morning photo of yourself on Instagram!
If you’re a perfectionist, chances are you won’t ask for help because you don’t want to come across as weak or like you haven’t got it under control.
So if this has resonated with you, what can you do about it, to improve your life, and stop letting perfectionism from holding you back from living well?
Cut yourself some slack. Of course if you are a perfectionist self-compassion is not going to be as easy for you, because beating yourself up with mental gymnastics is part of the issue. How I try and practice self-compassion is to try and give myself the same understanding and kindness I would give to my daughter, mother, or friends.
If you can find space for yourself, let go a little and know that life is not perfect and neither are you. Your world will feel much less heavy, things will flow more freely and you will be able to become a better and happier version of yourself.