Advice from a recovering perfectionist: How I’m working on changing 20 years of toxic thinking

Confession time: I am a recovering perfectionist. People seem to think that people who claim to be perfectionists are saying that they are perfect. You know those people in interviews who arrogantly stat that their weakness is being a perfectionist. That idea couldn’t be any further from the truth.

Being a perfectionist isn’t a bragging point. It is saying that you are afraid of failing. I’ve dropped a class in college because I didn’t get a high enough grade on an assignment. It is embarrassing to admit. The fact is I was too afraid of failing. I wasn’t thinking about the bigger picture.

Perfectionism is NOT being perfect. A perfectionist is not someone who does everything perfectly. A perfectionist is someone who does almost nothing unless it can be accomplished perfectly It is an all or nothing mindset. A perfectionist thinks that it is better to not try at all than to try and not be perfect. Getting a zero on an assignment that you didn’t do is better than getting an 80 on an assignment you did do. Or it’s better to not apply for the job than to apply and not get it. Perfectionism, if not kept in check, can be debilitating.

The Problem with Perfectionism

Why is perfectionism so dangerous for productivity? It is because we are worried about being perfect instead of being done. As I said, it’s an all or nothing mindset.

I did marching band all four years of high school. One thing that my band director always said was our show is never going to be perfect. We could have a great show. Almost flawless, but it could always be better. It didn’t matter if we played every note correctly. We still could have put more emotion into it. That’s how most things in life are.

Most things we do aren’t going to have a clear-cut answer like math does. I learn that every day as a recovering perfectionist. This blog is never going to be perfect. I’m always going to have something that could be worded better. There’s always going to be a better graphic you could have used. But I’m still going to write it and share it. I’m not going to eat perfectly every day, but I’m not going to go to the other extreme and eat horribly. You’re not going to ace every single test, but that doesn’t mean you should drop out of school.

The Solution

If you are a recovering perfectionist, the best thing you can do is get familiar with failure. We are not going to be perfect at everything. In fact, we won’t be perfect at most things. Do something that scares you. Writing and publishing this blog frightens me. I know that my writing isn’t perfect. I may not have the most interesting topics. But I love writing. I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I’ve wanted to have a blog ever since I learned what a blog is. And I’m doing it.

One of the best ways to beat perfectionism is by changing your attitude. Instead of viewing everything like a competition between yourself or others think of what you will accomplish by just doing it. As a recovering perfectionist, I’ve found that getting out of my comfort zone

If you have something that you are wanting to do, do it. Maybe you fail the first time. That’s okay. Just assess where you went wrong and reset and try again.

We are all familiar with the stories of Oprah, President Lincoln, and Michael Jordan. I’m not going to rehash those. Instead, I want to end with what Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

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