Only a perfectionist makes it her or his summer goal to be better at failing.
With perfectionism comes dedication and perseverance to the task. In order to change, the first thing a perfectionist needs to know, is what perfectionism is and why we do it.
In the book, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are researcher, Brene’ Brown writes: “Understanding the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism is critical to laying down the shield and picking up your life. Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis.”
Summary definitions of perfectionism vs. healthy striving from Brene’ Brown’s research:
- Perfectionism – People who are driven by what others think.
- Healthy striving – People who ask, How can I improve? How can I do my best?
We become perfectionists to protect ourselves from shame, rejection, and failure.
“When perfectionism is driving, shame is always riding shotgun — and fear is the annoying back seat driver.” ~ Brene’ Brown
Are you a perfectionist?
- Perfectionists prefer the word autonomy to accountability. Accountability requires a level of intimacy that is too vulnerable for perfectionists. The fear: What if they see the real me? The real me has flaws and opinions they might not agree with.
- Perfectionists are either serial starters or serial stallers. In her research, Brene’ Brown has identified this these traits as “life paralysis”. In either case, a serial starter or serial staller will find it hard to finish a task that is meaningful or adds value to their life. Are they high achievers in their day-to-day tasks? Absolutely (you should see how clean my house is). But when an opportunity comes along that really counts, the risk of failure may seem too high and the perfectionist won’t take the leap. (This applies to both personal and professional life.)
- Perfectionists never admit they are wrong. Being wrong would simply, be wrong. Perfectionists know, if you don’t admit your faults no one can see them. Unspoken wrongs are invisible wrongs. Right? Brene’ Brown says, “Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect, live perfectly, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.” Perfectionists can’t handle the idea of someone thinking less of them. Admitting infallibility screams – I am not good enough for you.
- Perfectionists often blame others for their imperfections or failures. If the perfectionist can blame someone else, the burden is lifted from his or her conscience and the perfectionist feels better about themselves. Kind of like when your child throw-up on you. You are covered with puke but your child feels well.
- Perfectionists think their behavior is keeping them safe from pain, but in reality it is keeping them imprisoned from a life of meaning and purpose.
If you are a perfectionist wanting to break free, here are a few quick tips for you to try:
- Get messy! I wasn’t surprise to find out in my study of perfectionism that perfectionists don’t think they are creative. We think of creative as someone who can sit for long hours painting or woodworking creating a mess on the floor. One of the keys to breaking free from perfectionism is to realize the true creativity that lies within you. Maybe you do not paint or do crafts buy you’re an entrepreneur or a leader of a team. Leaders are constantly creating. Creativity and the ability to fail spurs innovation. Second, step into the unknown side of creativity and take a class in an area of art you would never see yourself doing – painting, pottery, or glass blowing. There is freedom in the mess!
- Be spontaneous. Perfectionists like planned, controlled environments. There is less chance for error or for things to go wrong. To break free of this less than adventurous (safe) routine, try doing spontaneous things or hang out with spontaneous people!
- Aiming for a life of healthy striving and living free of perfectionism will give you the freedom to live your dreams and experience life in a way you never imagined. Go for it!
In life and leadership,