You may have the idea of what perfect is: the perfect job, the perfect party, or the perfect boss. Aiming high is encouraged but it makes me wonder if perfection is a realistic goal. We seem to push ourselves (or we are pushed by others) toward perfection however it’s defined. Interestingly, aiming for perfection doesn’t always translate into greatness. Aiming for perfection can have a negative impact on you.
A definition of perfectionism is a combination of excessively high personal standards and overly critical self-evaluations. Meaning that no matter how hard you try, genuine perfection is not really attainable.
What is your mode of perfectionism?
- Self-Oriented: You attach irrational importance to being perfect, hold unrealistic expectations of yourself, and are very critical in your self-evaluation.
- Socially Prescribed: Your social situation feels very demanding because you think that others judge you harshly so you must appear perfect in order to attain approval.
- Other-Oriented: You impose unrealistic standards of perfection on others and evaluate them critically.
Comparing You to Them
I’ve seen an increase in people setting unrealistic expectations for themselves. It might be salary expectations, lifestyle ambition, or materialistic goals. Social media adds to the stress because, in order to compete, it’s important to know where we stand when we compare ourselves to others. Social media provides opportunities for social comparison which can, in turn, lead to anxiety and worry. I may ask clients about how much time they spend on Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat. Many people curate an image that appears to be perfect and that in turn sets us up to be unable to measure up.
Falling short of perfection is not catastrophic IF you believe that perfection does not really exist. Doing your best – is (by definition) the best you can do.
Perfectionism robs you of joy, self-confidence, your ability to get things done, your ability to accept yourself, and your ability to make progress. Instead of accepting that you are doomed to a life of being a suffering perfectionist – there are some things you can do to become a ‘recovering perfectionist:’
Recognize and accept that you are a Perfectionist. It’s not only that you have high standards; it’s that you and few others can ever meet those standards. If you have an overriding fear of failure, are intolerant of mistakes, and/or go over your work so much you miss deadlines – you may be a Perfectionist.
Take improvement feedback with grace. Instead of seeing improvement feedback as criticism, learn how to see it as useful information that can be used to help you improve.
Discard the feedback that is not useful or helpful. You may view any criticism, no matter who it’s from or how well it lands, as a personal attack and a comment about your self-worth and value. Try instead to accept that feedback is information rather than a judgment of your worth.
Perfectionism is not the same as being motivated to improve. You can be happy with who and where you are in life AND want to be even better. That is not the same thing as not feeling good enough. Perfectionists often think that if they can just achieve a certain goal, they will finally feel good about themselves – but that never seems to happen.
Make goals realistic. Stretch goals are one thing but goals that are out of your reach set you up for anger, frustration, and unhappiness. Realistic goals stretch you and are attainable. There is a difference between ‘musts’ and ‘wants.’ You pay an extra price in time, stress, and frustration when you insist on attaining everything on your ‘wants’ list. In everything you do (at work and outside of work), ask yourself if you know what the ‘musts’ and ‘wants’ are. In many cases, the ‘must’ features are good enough. Include the “want” features only if it’s something that’s worth the extra effort, and you have the necessary time and resources to obtain it.
Reduce your standards. Sometimes the standards people set are simply too high. Who can identify the difference between 100% and 90%? What are the consequences of a less than perfect report, luncheon, or presentation? I’m not suggesting that you turn in below standard work but I am suggesting that you test the standards to see if they make sense.
Try something new. Perfectionists hate to make mistakes and that can hold them back from trying new things. When you are learning, mistakes usually happen.
Avoid the things, people and situations that support your tendency to be a Perfectionist. The world can be a place that sets high standards that are not realistic. The person who never is at a loss for words; the quote that reminds you how winning is the only thing that matters; the television show where everyone is attractive (slim, young, smart, wealthy); or the person on Instagram who is always traveling to exotic places. Those are the things that make you feel ‘less’ than. You might have noticed that no one ever posts when someone in their family gets arrested.
What else can you do?
- Find blogs, books, articles, TedTalks that make you feel empowered.
- Spend time with people who accept you for who you are.
- Surround yourself with people who encourage you to grow and achieve.
Being human is an ongoing learning process. There are always people and situations that you have yet to encounter – until you do. Life has its multifaceted complications, meaning:
You finally get that promotion the same week your partner gets laid off.
The job is a dream and your boss departs, leaving you with a manager that is a nightmare.
Family illness creates a lot of stress and things are finally looking up but you ate a lot of comfort food while going through the health scare and now you are 20 pounds overweight.
Life is always in flux. Even when everything is going great, it’s usually just a matter of time until something changes — and not in a good way. So while Perfectionists keep their eyes on the destination, they can miss out on the trip to get there.