Is this you? Do you live your life in the manner depicted in this one photo? If so, stop it! Seriously…
Allow me to speak from experience as an ever-recovering perfectionaholic, it ain’t worth it. Life is too short to persevere, dwell, worry or expend energy on things that don’t matter. Using the yardwork example in my own context, every time I decide that I will clean up my backyard, I want it to look perfect when I am finished. The endless battle against the leaves falling from the trees on the other side of the fence from my property is a losing battle. Despite spending an hour with the blower getting every single leaf off of the grass, then trying to pick up every single leaf and put it in the composter or trash can, AT BEST I have one shining minute of perfection. That’s it…one minute. Sixty seconds until one more leaf falls off from one of the trees and “ruins” the look I was trying to achieve.
Think about that…why on Earth would I care if the backyard is not perfect? Three hundred and sixty two days a year, I am the only one who sees it. My wife and I have a small gathering of friends maybe three days a year, other than that, it is just us. She is happy when I make the effort to improve the way the backyard looks, and her expectation is not perfection. I have had to learn to view this in the same way. Here are some examples of how perfectionism holds me back from just this one task:
I know it will take a long time for it to be perfect, so I avoid starting the project
I will leave the blower out so I can remove the next set of leaves later that day in effort to keep it “perfect’
I will go to the back door and look out to see if anything has “messed up” my perfection attempt.
I will watch the weather and put off cleaning up the yard if there is a hint of wind in the forecast
This is starting to sound like a disorder…
But let’s view this in the bigger context of life, like my day job. If I waited to return a prospective client’s Request For Proposal (RFP) until I thought every word and every sentence was perfect, I would lose sleep and miss deadlines frequently. This means I would miss out on sales opportunities all the time, and probably get fired from my job altogether. Not exactly a productive cycle. Don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating for sloppy work to be done on a regular basis, but I cannot allow my desire for something to be perfect to hold me back. If I can “settle” for a high level of quality as my output, then I am doing better than most. Over the years I have learned to use this “affliction” to my advantage; on the racquetball court it used to be a real issue as I tried to do something that was never done in the history of sports…play a PERFECTLY, no errors whatsoever. In baseball, when a pitcher throws a perfect game, it means that they faced the minimum number of hitters in a nine inning game, and no one reached base. IT DOES NOT MEAN THEY THREW 81 STRIKES THAT NOT ONE HITTER TOUCHED. But this is the problem with perfectionism, one tiny little mistake makes it seem like you have failed.
That is NOT the case at all, anywhere, except in that over-analyzing mind of yours…
The real problem with this outlook in one area of life is that it pervades everything eventually, causing the world around you to also disappoint you on a regular basis. Soon no one will measure up to your standards; your friends will “let you down”, your love interests won’t measure up in one way or another and you’ll turn away and look for another that you hope is perfect. Allow me to let you in on a harsh truth that will make your life much easier from this point forward:
You are a FLAWED HUMAN BEING… just like EVERYONE ELSE.
There…I said it, and it is true. This is now the rule of law that you live by. Read this aloud, and hear yourself say it:
I will give myself a break, as perfection is unobtainable. I will laugh at myself on occasion, realizing that no one ever in the history of mankind has been perfect. I am just like the rest of the world.
I am a work in progress, just like everyone else. Each failure, misfire, belly flop, whatever is a learning experience. I will treat it accordingly
I will treat myself with love, forgiveness, and respect. I will treat others the same way, and I will ensure that I will not settle for less from those I associate with.
I understand that victories, wins and accomplishments need to be savored and appreciated, not just the expected outcome and a box to be checked.
I suffered under this last one for a long time, under-appreciating the achievements I had. I operated like winning a racquetball tournament was my expectation and when I did, the feeling was not much more than relief and general acknowledgement that I didn’t mess things up. Anything short of this outcome was a failure. This is disrespectful to my opponents and their abilities, and a completely self-derived narrative that held me back from achieving more than I did.
With the above points in mind, you need to rebuild your outlook on life. You need to, slowly but surely, start to lighten up, give yourself some leeway, and stifle that harsh critic that lives in your head. You need to, at some point, have them bound and gagged, pushed into a dark corner of your mind, serving solely as a reminder of the progress you have made and that you have to monitor this behavior pattern from now on.
This road won’t be easy, but I can tell you this for certain: It will be the easier alternative than the road you are currently on. There is no doubt in my mind that this an absolute truth in life. Get started soon, and be diligent. If you have the fortitude to drive yourself and push yourself to achieve things that you hold as a standard, you already have the tools to make this change as well. You can do it…I believe in you. Now it’s your turn.
Let me know if I can assist in your efforts, I may have a flashlight you can borrow to help find your way out of the darkness.
There was a famous study done a long time ago called the Stanford Marshmallow Test, and basically what is was supposed to help determine was a child’s ability to delay gratification and how this outlook […]