I'm Perfect: How Perfectionism Holds Us Back
I hold myself to meticulous high standards.
I turn in exemplary reports.
I thoroughly research and curate speeches that are flawless.
I am perfect!
Just kidding. I’m a perfectionist.
And it is holding me back.
Perfectionism means I agonize over attention to detail,
Taking hours longer than necessary to complete a project.
It means unless I have a fully formed thought or idea, I won’t put up my hand or offer my opinion at a meeting.
It’s the part of me that says: “I’m never good enough”.
Perfectionism is not the best of me.
It’s the worst of me.
Brene Brown the writer of books on shame says: “Where perfectionism is driving, shame is riding shotgun”.
Perfectionism is a cover for fear.
The fear of putting something out into the world and being judged or criticized.
The fear of making a mistake and not being able to deal with the mortification.
It is the ultimate fear that others will discover my worst suspicion: That my work is not worthy. I am not worthy. And my flawed, human self will be rejected.
Until a few years ago, perfectionism kept me playing small. It kept me from the taking chances that would propel my life and my business forward. But I didn’t recognize it.
Until I saw my teenage daughters staying up late to get the assignment done “just right”, being terrified of not being prepared for a test, and not speaking up in class for fear of saying the wrong answer.
I finally saw this limiting trait for what it was and knew I had to change.
At first I tried spouting rhetoric to myself and my kids. (To be honest I researched the exact right things to say)
Aim for the B.
C’s get Degrees.
Done is better than perfect.
Be willing to be wrong.
You have to fail to succeed.
These are empty sentiments though unless you practice them.
I began to practice making offers, sending pitches and writing copy that was fine. Just fine. Not great. I would hit send with a fluttery, anxious heart and then force myself to move on to the next task.
I gave myself a certain amount of time to complete a task: 15 minutes to write an IG post. An hour to write a rough draft. Two hours to do a good copy. And when the time was done, it was done. Good enough. Submit.
These small easy wins got me started.
But not surprisingly, (Ahem. Perfectionist) I was not satisfied until I researched further.
I learned that by engaging in perfectionism we’re trying to avoid the feeling we imagine we will feel if we fail. We are trying to avoid feeling disappointment, shame, embarrassment and humiliation.
However, we humans come with the full range of human emotion.
We are not meant to spend our whole lives avoiding all the “bad” ones.
Especially since everything we want is usually on the other side of fear.
What if then, instead of spending so much energy and time trying to avoid these negative emotions, I learned how to process and tolerate them?
A feeling is simply a physical sensation in the body.
A flushed face, a churning stomach, shallow breathing or sweaty palms.
Research shows they last about 90 seconds.
You’re scoffing. “I have felt embarrassment and it can go on for days…”
When I mess up say a part of my speech, and my face flushes, the flush feels hot and uncomfortable, but 90 seconds later it could be gone.
What keeps the sensation from going away is the voice in our brain creating a story about the sensation: “Everyone could tell you were nervous. You looked so foolish. You should have been better prepared”. It is our thoughts that keep the feelings lingering.
Do a small thing you are avoiding because you don’t want to feel a negative emotion.
Allow the feeling to come.
Describe the sensation to yourself.
Is it hot? cold? Hard? Pounding? Fluttering?
Get curious about it and how long it lasts.
Become aware of the stories that come to make meaning.
What are they saying?
Can you change the story?
Can you change the thought?
Can you tell yourself: “I can handle any feeling that comes up”.