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The problems with being "A bit of a perfectionist"


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The problems with being "A bit of a perfectionist"

john graham

In the movie Trainspotting when spud was asked during an interview if he had any weaknesses he came back with the thoughtful answer " Oh aye, Im a bit of perfectionist actually, for me its got to be the best or just nothing at all..."  This really stuck with me to begin with for the comic value but then as time went by for another reason.

Spud gives this answer not because its what he thinks, but its because he thinks its what the interviewers would like to hear.  That being a perfectionist is a good thing.  I would completely disagree and would say that a large proportion of my clients who have labeled themselves this way have made life that bit trickier for themselves, even though a lot believe it's a good thing.

From my view some of the things displayed by 'Perfectionists' are:

  • Procrastinating under the guise of getting everything "just right" before they look to start a new project
  • Stressing that its not going to be good enough
  • Strained relationships with others who are not of the same mindset
  • Working from fear of not being good enough rather than passion and love
  • Finishing up what ever and jumping onto the next thing without giving self praise 
  • High on nervous energy then eventually crashing and burning with exhaustion
  • Worry about how other people think

Now I'm not saying that perfectionists I've met display all of these traits but certainly there's different combinations of one or two.  You may know someone who displays some of these traits? So I'd hope you would agree procrastinating, stressed, fearful, unfulfilled, exhausted are not conducive ways to performing at their best.  These are kinda the opposite states of what we would be looking for in someone on top of their game.

So when people say the are perfectionists what are they setting their standards against?  Well the word perfection can be tracked back to the Latin 'Peficio' - "to finish or bring to and end". Aristotle described one concept of perfection as "Nothing could be better".  Yes in cases of maths, physics, chemistry this can be so.  In nature everything is already perfection, including us, it's just the thoughts that we can apply that can make that seem less so.   Everything man made, mind made has imperfections..Like any thought created thing they are open to interpretation, they aren't definite.  No wonder labelling yourself as a perfectionist leads to stress, its something that can never be achieved.

Achieving excellence, being your best, giving it a bash, playing with something new, being thankful to me are far more healthy approaches to getting the best out of life.  And looking at the bullet list above I thought I'd list the opposites just to see how that looks:

  • understanding that theres hardly ever a perfect time to do things so just get started doing
  • What is good enough?  You define this.  Whats the best you can do with the skills behaviours and resources you have? 
  • What can you learn from each effort to apply the next time.  Enjoy learning and growing, that should never end no matter who you are.
  • Theres imperfection in everything we do, see, hear.  Like listening to a vinyl record loving the little nicks and scratches, everything we create has imperfections.  Love them.
  • In the words of author Brene Brown "Healthy striving is self focused: "How can I Improve?"  Perfection is other-focused: "What will they think" 
  • Allow yourself time to relax, take stock and appreciate your efforts, learning & experience

I have to admit it's taken me a while to write a new article for you.  Looking at the first list I can see a lot of myself and I certainly don't class myself as a perfectionist.  So I've bashed this out to get back in the game.  Hopefully you can see some of yourself in what Ive talked about and whether they are elements from the first list or the second know that you're perfect with all your imperfections and take it from there.

And now you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good
— John Steinbeck