Are you grappling with perfectionism?
Rather than addressing the symptoms of perfectionism, let’s talk about one of its roots. There are others, but I’ll focus on one today.
Take a second to think about the story you tell yourself about being a perfectionist and pouring excess effort into completing something.
Is it that if you try your hardest, it’ll stand in place of the results you may or may not get from your efforts?
Do you crave the attention from doing too much, being stressed out, and overwhelmed by how much you’re doing? Does the sympathy for your overwhelm and fatigue fill the void left by not being truly understood and supported by those around you?
Does trying harder give you a convenient excuse for when mistakes happen, thereby making you feel more comfortable to wing it as long as you try hard enough?
It’s hard to let go of a story when it’s feeding you — even if the way that it’s feeding you is so subterranean and oblique, when the way that it’s harming you is so obvious and direct.
It’s also really easy to let our effort substitute for our results. Unfortunately, letting our effort substitute for our results tends to be unsustainable because we’re not leaving enough margin to determine if the way we’re working is working. It also doesn’t let us develop intelligent ways to ask for help and get support since the first thing we’ll do when we get some help is ratchet up the effort again.
All that excess effort and perfection-making means you care, after all.
Or does it?
Let’s pose the question this way: if you got the same benefit, would you prefer the people you care about to work twice as hard to get you those benefits as is necessary? Would you want people to wear themselves out for no more effective gain for you?
Or would you rather them approach their interactions with you in a grounded, energized, and open way instead of being stressed, tired, and scared that they might not be able to keep both ends of the candle lit?
Few people would be so inhumane and unreasonable with others, yet they are with themselves. Remember that the Mere Means Principle applies to how we treat ourselves as much to how we treat others.
A helping hand extended earlier is better than one withheld until perfection is achieved because perfection is never achieved. A solution that gets people started today is better than that potentially helps them finish but never gets shared. Seeing, hearing, and caring for people in a positive, generous, and fully-present way is better than half-seeing, half-hearing, and half-caring because you’ve stretched yourself too thin.
If your aim is to deliver results and benefits to people, focus on what gets them results and benefits — not how much effort it takes to get them. (Tweet this.)
Unless, of course, you want to make things harder than they need to be for you and those around you, by being overcome by your perfectionism.
Archan Mehta says
Thank you for contributing this post–an excellent one, to be sure. As usual.
Unfortunately, we have too many people in the world of business who strive for perfection. Many of them have neurotic tendencies: they may be “control freaks” or suffer from OCD.
It is difficult to fess up, so they avoid being diagnosed by their local therapist.
The fact is: it is impossible to be a perfectionist, because guess what? Nobody’s perfect. Even machines and robots break down and have to be repaired from time to time.
The most we can do is strive for excellence. Perfectionism is a pipe-dream based on the creation of fictional characters by literary types blessed with fertile imaginations.
It is also necessary to work smart, so forget about working hard. In our society, the gospel of working hard has been drummed into our heads since we were little children in nursery school. In many companies, working hard is also the norm, but it comes at a great personal cost. Later, it will come to haunt you and can result into professional losses as well.
Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Keep your perspective. The key is balance.
On your death bed, you won’t remember the long hours spent at your office serving clients. Instead, you will recount the fond memories: quality time spent with your near and dear ones; and that beautiful day that took your breath away, fly-fishing in Montana.
What are your priorities? Go figure. Cheerio.
Steve Marquez says
Timely post Charlie – many thanks. I too, like many peopple, grapple with perfectionism. It can be so debilitating to view tasks and things and life as all or nothing i.e. either it has to be perfect or it’s not worth doing/having etc. What I find helpful, when perfectionism rears its ugly head, is to remember that life is all about ‘doing’ – and so I just do it anyway. And, that actually everything is perfect in it’s own way – there is perfection in imperfection – we learn from our mistakes, but in order to do so we must make mistakes!
Thanks for this Charlie. It’s helped me realign my priorities between providing value vs. hard work. They are related, but certainly not a 1:1 correlation. As the saying goes, “don’t work hard, work smart.”
Sandra / Always Well Within says
This is a very interesting turnaround > looking at whether we would expect others to work to the crazy standards we might hold for ourselves. The roots of perfectionism run deep and I appreciate how you are addressing one aspect here. You have clearly unveiled that way that perfectionism is illogical. At the same time, I find loving and accepting ourselves despite the difficult tendencies another added feature to turning them around.
I’ve never been able to express or verbalize my perfectionist state of mind. I’m not sure why I felt that I even needed to, but it really helps when somebody else can put feelings and thoughts into words for you.
Nancy Hausauer says
Thanks for this brilliant re-framing.
Craig Morton says
I like this quote a lot “A helping hand extended earlier is better than one withheld until perfection is achieved because perfection is never achieved.”
I like how you address the process as the problem and the focus of most people. Thanks
I used to get teased at work because I would read an email over and over–sometimes three of four times, to make sure it didn’t have errors, before I pressed send. I have ADD and maybe dyslexia and am prone to spelling errors and other gaffes. So, I put in the extra effort to compensate for my condition. At any rate, I was paranoid that not being extra vigilant would result in too many errors that would eventually cost me my job. Eventually, I was so exhausted that I stopped error-checking my work over and over, and I tried to get “out of myself” by asking for input from co-workers. I did make more errors. I was told by higher ups that they needed someone that could show enthusiasm and attention to detail, and that didn’t need hand-holding (for asking for input) then I was asked to leave the company. Just thought I would add another perspective. In my experience, it is not as easy to let go of outcomes as it sounds.