To a certain extent perfectionism is worn almost as a badge of honour. A so-called “failing” that’s also seen as a compliment. It’s recited in job interviews across the world, under the obligatory ‘what are your flaws?’ line of questioning, yet with a misguided nod to the belief that perfectionism is really something of benefit that will raise standards.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s still probably better to admit to perfectionism in your next interview rather than napping at your desk during your afternoon sugar slump. However, any valuation of perfection, in my opinion, has well and truly had its day.
The reality is that the affliction of perfectionism, for those of us who suffer it, is a debilitating condition. Yes the world benefits from high standards, but in an ideal world it’s enthusiasm that drives these standards. When we work from enthusiasm we want to produce something of value because it feels good. We’re excited to share, grow and create in whatever way it may be. When we work from perfectionism, sure, we want the best results, but more so because we’re more worried about failing.
Whilst enthusiasm focuses on the process, perfectionism only really cares about the end results.
Perfectionism leaves our offerings to the world living under the murky shadows of fear of judgement, criticism and rejection. The problem is, as any basic gardener will tell you, not as much grows in the darkness. So we find that perfectionism creates far too harsh conditions for seedlings of expansion to flourish.
There’s no getting around it: starting something new requires failure. Getting better at something requires failure. Trying to achieve anything worthwhile requires failure. Whether we like it or not, at some stage or another, all routes in life lead to a certain amount of failure. (Granted, that doesn’t make for such an inspiring bumper sticker!)
Perfectionism doesn’t like failure...or mistakes...or errors. Yet all successful development needs to allow for it. There’s more than just personal growth at stake, it’s our collective growth as a society too. If we set our standards as high as perfectionism demands, then throughout history so many pages would have remained empty, canvases stayed blank and words left unspoken.
Perfection is absolutely unattainable. So why do we hold ourselves to high standards that are not just difficult, but are by definition completely impossible? At the root of it, perfectionism is based on a desire to please. If we please we gain approval, we feel accepted, recognised, seen...maybe even loved? We all know the saying ‘You can’t please all the people, all the time’, yet it doesn’t seem stop us from trying!
Perfectionism feeds the voice in our head that we’re not good enough, which only serves to cripple our chances of progress. By delaying until everything is “just right”, we’re depriving the world of the delightfully messy imperfections of what we’re capable of creating right now.
As distressing as it can feel, we simply cannot live life with everything neatly presented to the outside world. If we want to work as a community, like human beings are intended to, then we need to be vulnerable enough to show what we’ve got, no matter how incomplete and unfinished it seems in the eyes of perfectionism.
It’s like a mathematician not wanting to show their working out until they’ve solved the problem. Maybe someone else has a missing part to the puzzle that’s waiting to be discovered through collaboration.
Perfectionism is so isolating as it prevents us from falling back on our basic need to reach outside of ourselves for help, guidance and support.
Whilst there’s no magic cure for the disease of perfectionism, there are remedies that can make its effects less destructive. Recognising it is not your friend, but one of your biggest enemies is one of the first measures to take.
See that perfectionism’s primary concern is not to get you to win at life, it’s way more interested in stopping you from losing.
Only then can we see the real truth: that it is better to be imperfectly working towards success in life, rather than perfectly working towards avoiding failure