I’m choosing to keep fantastic company in this post, with the divine feminine wisdom of Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook) and Brené Brown (The Power of Vulnerability - one of the most viewed Ted Talks of all time) close at hand. Both of these women take a metallic glance at perfectionism and offer support to thrive through this often-inherent trait. Recognise perfectionist-traits in yourself? Read on. This one’s for you.
Listening to: Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da - The Beatles
Perfection (or is it beauty?) lies in the eye of the beholder. Photo by Malik Skydsgaard via Unsplash
The Perfectionists Among Us
Ever considered the classic adage when a job interviewer asks “What is your biggest weakness?” And your quintessential reply “I am a perfectionist.”
Yep, this one is for the perfectionists among us. And I include myself in that lucky group. In fact, I have been described before as having ‘impeccability’ as the essence of my very core. Initially this rocked my world and made me worry a lot: If I always strive for impeccability and perfection, how will I ever get anything done? And if I do manage to complete something, will I ever feel proud of myself, or will I forever lament the imperfections?
Perfectionism is indeed a double-edged sword. On the bright side:
It establishes a fiercely focused work ethic (I will finish all my tasks today before I shut down my computer)
Perfectionism pushes you to send/publish/present only your best work
Being a perfectionist offers a deep trust in yourself, knowing that you will produce the highest quality output
So as a perfectionist, I am dedicated to the tasks at hand, I produce my highest quality work and I know I’ll just do it all over again tomorrow…? All hail perfectionism!
Woah! Hold your horses there, lassy, not so fast.
Because on the other perfectly-manicured hand, the dark side of perfectionism can manifest as:
Procrastinating to start or paralysis to continue causing you to repeatedly postpone tasks
The fear of being an uninformed beginner can hold you back from trying something new - like signing up to that online course you’ve been eyeing
Overwhelming stress - expecting more and more from yourself, disregarding your limited resources at hand (like hours in your day, your energy level, asking for help from others)
When you do actually produce something, you constantly berate it as not quite right and entirely lose the personal satisfaction of achievement, in turn lowering your self-esteem
The thought: What if I fail spectacularly? Too scary! Delete delete delete.
One of my most-used sayings is: The best laid plans of mice and (wo)men often go awry. Therein lies the crux! We can plan and prepare and perfect and lay down our bestest plans, but life is messy and things rarely go perfectly. Actually, it’s more likely they lean to the unexpected and awry end, rather than perfectly boxed up and tied with a sparkly bow.
Often unconsciously, we hinge our self-worth to being perfect, unknowingly setting ourselves up for ultimate dissatisfaction and frustration. And that’s the issue with aiming for perfection - if you’ve set yourself up for perfect-or-nothing expectations, since the messy middle of life happens every day, you’ll likely be continuously disappointed and/or treat yourself harshly for falling short of your self-imposed perfect standards.
The messy middle is where it’s at! Luckily, we have two power women to help us maneuver the common misconception that producing something that isn’t perfect, equals total failure.
The Women of the Hour
Brené’s incredible work shines a light on vulnerability and the power it holds. Her Ted Talk and podcast has positively transformed the way I communicate with myself and with the people closest to me.
I'm a recovering perfectionist and an aspiring "good enoughist."
- Brené Brown
Doing something that is “good enough” opens up my vulnerability, because once it’s out there, I can’t take it back. All I can do is look at it and believe I did as much as I could with what I had at the time. If Brené faces the overcoming-perfectionism struggle, I feel comforted and emboldened that it is overcomable for me too.
Sheryl’s eye-opening book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead is one of my favourite female-empowering reads. I always whip it open when I need women in the workplace inspo. She encourages women to lean in and sit at the table. To do these things, you have to pull up a chair for yourself, stick your hand high in the air and speak up.
Done is better than perfect.
- Sheryl Sandberg
Considering Sheryl’s to-the-point quote encourages me to stop holding myself back, to cast my unnecessary perfectionism aside, propel myself forward and satisfyingly tick that achievement off my list as “done!” Done is better than perfect. Between ‘done’ and ‘still a perfect work in progress’ … I choose done.
Get it Done, Girlfriend
Just this morning, this was literally my thought process:
“It’s Saturday, I’d like to finish writing that post about perfectionism with Sheryl and Brené for Tropical Temple blog. But, meh, I’m entering my menstrual phase of my cycle and I’ll probably do a better job of writing it in my creative ovulatory phase … Maybe I should wait till I have more energy to harness my creative flow at its best.”
Then I thought:
“Hell no, girlfriend! What would Sheryl and Brené say? To recover as a perfectionist and be happy with ‘good enough,’ I’ll give it 3 hours and no more. I will get this done today, that’s better than perfect, anyway.
And here I am. Blog is written and I’m super stoked with how it came out :)
But, Like, How?
Become aware of your engrained thought patterns and autopilot mode. Identifying them is the only way to start changing them. Working with perfectionist-tendencies is a constant work in progress, which starts with consciously identifying the thoughts and actions that creep in, whispering “perfect or nothing.” Once you start to recognise the patterns, you can replace them with the action-driven next steps.
Start. Acknowledge that by starting, you’re taking the most effortful step towards achieving something awesome. Throw yourself in. Give yourself a time goal. Sign up for that course and complete the first lesson by the end of the week. Draw a janky stick figure and giggle at the absurdity of her too-close-together eyes. Launch your business and trust yourself that you’re adaptable enough to learn along the way. Accept that the first draft will be ugly! And that’s really ok.
Brace yourself and back yourself through the messy middle. Realise that if you continue to tinker and tweak for infinity, allowing the perfectionist in you to take over at every turn, the world will never get to see anything you create! And you shouldn’t be ok with that. Refocus on what you want to achieve. Check in with your to do list and leave perfecting the details alone, for now, or maybe even (gasp!) forever. Zone back in with the most important thing and Get It Done. (Have you heard about the Pomodoro technique? This is an epic time management method which gives you only a 25 minute interval to focus on a single task… I feel another blog post brewing). If all else fails, watch Brené’s Ted Talk or read a chapter of Sheryl’s book. Then get straight back to your vibe, girl!
Reflect and regroup. Schedule a regular reflection moment to glance back and consider: What are you most proud of? What challenged you? How can you implement what you’ve learned into the next phase? One of my most inspiring and career-accomplishing girlfriends, Bee, follows two week scrum sprints throughout her company, ending each cycle with reflection. I do a personal review every 6 months - one around my birthday, the other around my half birthday. Whatever works for you: harness this value by reflecting backwards and gazing forwards for a moment.
From One Perfectionist to Another
So, you, me, Sheryl and Brené - we make quite the team of recovering perfectionists, getting shit done :) We’ve got this!
Thank you for being here with me.
Please do let me know in the comments if you struggle with perfectionism, how it manifests for you and if you have practical ways to overcome it.
With love, the Self Love Club x
P.S. In the spirit of harnessing the power of my perfectionism and not letting it rule my life, I endeavour to not edit this blog post once I publish it. A feat I’ve not yet achieved with any other post… Challenge accepted.
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We write about Self Love practises, habits to establish joy and musings on living a fabulous life.