Will all of my perfectionists in the room please raise your hand?
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Perfectionism is a personality trait that can have devastating effects on your life and well-being. How do I know? Because I am a hardcore neurotic perfectionist. Hell, I even included it my bio…full disclosure ya’ll.
Let me tell you something that may be hard (or a relief) to hear.
Perfectionists are not perfect! They’re not superhumans who have an uncanny ability to do everything right and be good at everything.
Quite the opposite in fact. Being a perfectionist is exhaustingly hard work and if you don’t manage it properly can lead to pretty low quality of life.
But wait…wouldn’t striving for perfection be a good thing? I mean, better to be that than a lazy poop who doesn’t give a shit about doing a good job, right?
Buckle up buttercup and grab a glass of wine or beverage of choice, cause we gotta lot to cover!
- What is a Perfectionist and How to Know if You Are One
- Why Perfectionism Actually Sucks
- How Perfectionism Leads to Procrastination
- Hidden Dangers of Perfectionism
- Done is Better Than Perfect
- Kick Perfectionism’s Ass and Get Over Yourself
- Use Perfectionism to Your Advantage
Now at this point…
You’re One of Two Kinds of People
- Those that already know they suffer from perfectionism and how it sucks
- Those that are scratching their heads because they thought it was the key to their success all along
In the case of #1, congratulations.
You’ve self-identified and you’re in the right place. Cause we’re gonna talk about all the shitty things about perfectionism and how to overcome it. (We’ll talk about how those perfectionist qualities can also make you a badass but let’s get the gnarly out of the way first, shall we?)
And if you fall into bucket #2, that’s ok too. You may find as we go through this that your perfectionist tendencies have had some negative effects on your life, while also contributing to your past successes.
But, before we get too far ahead of ourselves…
What is a Perfectionist and How to Know if You Are One
Now, I am going to assume that you associate with some sort of perfectionism since you landed here, reading this post.
But, maybe you were just curious. Or maybe you’ve always thought you might be a perfectionist but weren’t sure.
Or, maybe you know, love or are close to someone who is a perfectionist and want to better understand them.
Whatever brought ya here, we’re gonna start with the basics.
According to psychology, perfectionism is characterized as striving for flawlessness, setting excessively high standards for performance, and evaluating one’s own behavior overly critically. You can read more about it here, written by experts in the field.
Any of these Sound Familiar?
- Mistakes make you feel inadequate and cause significant stress for you
- You find it difficult to celebrate success (you could have done it better or faster)
- Your self-worth relies on accomplishments or what you can produce regardless of what it takes to get there
- You’re constantly critical of others not performing to your level
- You avoid doing things out of fear you won’t be good at it
- You always feel like there’s “something more” so you’re never satisfied with life
- It takes you a ridiculous amount of time to complete tasks…all of them…even the teeny ones
- You think and act in extremes
- You splurged on a couple of fries at lunch, (because duh, fries are life) so you already blew your diet for the day. May as well eat #allthethings
- You’re afraid to delegate because no one can do it to your level of expectations
- You fixate on mistakes and find it very hard to move on from them
- There’s a very specific manner in which things should be done
- You constantly worry about what other people think
- You always worry you said something wrong
- Maybe that email came across as bitchy…🤔
- You spend 30 minutes writing a two-sentence email or text (so guilty)
- You live with a constant fear of failure
This is the life of a perfectionist, my friends.
And if not managed properly, it can be a terrible, sucky existence.
Different Kinds of Perfectionists
Now, before we go any further, I want to caveat with not all perfectionists are created equal. There are some badass perfectionists out there that use their unique skills and perspective on life to be wildly successful and experience very little to no negative effects.
In fact, many perfectionists you meet tend to be very successful.
The question here is not whether or not perfectionists can be successful, it’s more often related as a direct contributor to their success.
But you’re still going to have two different categories here.
Those that have a very negative perfectionist tendency, whose successes have potentially come at a very high physical, mental and social expense. These guys are driven by a fear of failure, shame or not doing something well enough.
There are those that have positive perfectionist tendencies who use them to fuel their motivation and ultimately successful lives. (Although, this is a highly debated topic in the world of psychology as some feel these are not true perfectionists.)
I may have an undergraduate degree in Psychology, but I am not qualified to have that debate and therefore will not weigh in on that.
I personally have suffered from extremely negative, soul-sucking neurotic perfectionism my entire life.
And it doesn’t just go away, folks! I still have to work very hard to keep myself reigned in to avoid falling down the black hole.
Alright, let’s get to it.
Why Perfectionism Actually Sucks
The Small Things Matter too Much
There is so much pressure to complete everything and it must always be perfect. Even the things that aren’t that important!
That comment I made earlier about taking 30 minutes to write a two-sentence email?
I legit had a process for that…it went something like this:
- Draft email
- Leave it and work on something else
- Come back with fresh eyes and tweak
- Leave it and work on something else
- Come back with fresh eyes and tweak
You get the point…
Sometimes it would take me an entire DAY to hit the send button on an email.
Go ahead, call me neurotic! Or maybe you’re nodding your head, raising your hand because you can relate.
Either way, that shit sucks.
And the sad thing is, for the longest time, I thought that made me BETTER than other people whose emails weren’t perfect.
Ok, not better than them…but better at writing emails.
Only Doing What You’re Good At
Perfectionists miss out on so many opportunities because if you can’t do it perfectly, then why do it at all?
Wanna hefty dose of some irony here?
I used to see this as a key to all my success!
If anyone made a comment about how I am good at everything I try or set my mind to, my retort was simple:
“Yeah, the key to success is just not to do anything you suck at.”
Then I read a blog post that changed my life forever.
I saw the post title while trawling through the archives one day and my jaw literally dropped.
That was my mantra! It’s the reason I have always been so successful!
“Sucking at something is the first step to becoming sorta good at something.” (Full disclosure, quoting Jake the Dog here, straight outta Emilie’s post)
But she’s right, technically everyone sucks at something until they don’t.
Goal Abandonment Issues
Next self-sabotaging tendency of perfectionists…they tend to run out of steam and abandon their goals.
I mean, if you’re constantly overcomplicating strategies and solutions, always doing then re-doing but still never feeling like it’s good enough, or spending an entire week just planning how to accomplish something…doesn’t that sound exhausting?
It is! By the time they get around to actually working on the task they’re burned out and abandon it altogether or put it off because it’s causing too much anxiety.
Small Achievements Don’t Matter
Perfectionists also tend to be dismissive of smaller achievements. Nothing less than 100% is acceptable.
And even when projects or goals get to 100%, it could have been done better.
Mental and Physical Health
Ugh, and can we talk about anxiety and exhaustion?
Imagine this scenario…
You snuggle down into your freshly laundered sheets, nice and toasty from your glass of wine (or shot(s) of tequila, I’m not here to judge), soothing fan in the background, your head burrows down into that ridiculously expensive but oh so worth it pillow ready to drift away into a peaceful slumber.
Your brain turns on faster than a teenager on prom night.
Suddenly all you can think about is what you still need to get done. What could you have done better that day? Why didn’t that person answer my text?
Shit…the dishes didn’t get done. Seriously, I used to be so bad that I would get out of bed to do the dishes because I couldn’t sleep knowing they were in the sink.
Which leads me to the next reason perfectionism sucks:
Intolerance of Mess & Disorganization
Yup, my obsession for cleanliness and organization is likely directly correlated with my perfectionism.
Functioning in chaos is just not an option. If my environment is messy, my brain feels messy and I can’t concentrate.
It’s also likely why I am so drawn to interior design and “pretty” things. Beautifully curated designs and spaces make me feel peaceful and happy.
I relate to this on such a deep level because, also being a creative, and if you’re a creative or know someone who is, you know they tend to be more disorganized or all over the place.
My brain is usually a jumbled mess, yet somehow I manage to keep my physical spaces and plans very organized, which is definitely an attempt to make sense of the neuroticism going on in my dome.
Now you may be asking, what’s wrong with wanting things to be neat and organized?
Nothing…as long as walking into your house after a hard day at work and seeing three things on the living room floor doesn’t cause an aneurysm and lead to you stomping around the house like a tyrant screaming at everyone about how they don’t give a shit about you being able to come home to a clean house.
I mean, is that really too much to ask!?
Inability to Ask for Help
Perfectionists also struggle with needing to complete all their to-do’s and achieve all of their goals, even if it’s unrealistic, but then struggle with asking for help.
This leads to a lot of going it alone, which in turn usually starts the cycle of not being able to get #allthethings done.
Annnnnnd we know that means you feel like shit about yourself…
Starting to see the cycle here?
If you think perfectionists have this amazing confidence and self-esteem, let me poke you with a reality stick.
They’re not! Their perfectionism is often driven by a need to maintain that perfect image you see of them.
Because perfectionists set a lot of unrealistic expectations for themselves (umm, like being perfect), they set themselves up for failure.
When that inevitable failure arrives, they feel like crap about themselves. It’s a cycle that is incredibly damaging to self-esteem.
They also set very high expectations but may have a tendency to procrastinate, which eventually leads to a perpetual lack of achievement and unhappiness with themselves.
Speaking of procrastination:
How Perfectionism Leads to Procrastination
Anxiety and fear of failure often keep perfectionists trapped in procrastination. They may seem busy and productive, but the high standards they hold for themselves keep them from actually getting much done.
I know what you’re probably thinking…isn’t procrastination a direct opposition to everything perfectionists stand for?
Yes! Which is why it’s so damn difficult to deal with.
The perfectionism leads to procrastination which leads to unhappiness. It’s a vicious cycle.
So what causes it?
A lot of the time it’s driven by the need to make perfect decisions. You don’t want to risk making the wrong decision, so you take forever or maybe even never make a decision at all.
A perfectionist will spend wayyyyyyyy too much time on relatively small decisions for the same reason, which leads to procrastination.
Changing the curtain colors…where to go for dinner…
Finishing tasks is also such a chore because you never really know when to stop tweaking or making changes to “finish” it.
I went through five logos for Be Productively before finally deciding on the one you see now. And even now I have to remind myself sometimes that it is good enough when I get the itch to try something new.
Maybe I could make it just a little bit better…
Some people never get past that stage.
Hidden Dangers of Perfectionism
Let’s talk about some of the negative effects perfectionism can have on your life.
When you’re so afraid to fail that you put off trying, you’re missing opportunities to learn some key lessons.
Because fear of failure is such a key component of perfectionism, it makes it very difficult for perfectionists to understand that failure is inevitable and ultimately gives us the opportunity to learn and grow from it.
Believing that perfection is attainable leads to poor self-worth.
It’s a myth. You’ll never be perfect.
There, I said it. Get over it.
You’re just setting yourself up for failure.
Trying to be perfect is exhausting. It’s an uphill battle you’ll never win.
It’s soul-sucking to put forth so much effort to feel like you never really achieve anything worthwhile.
Never reaching the vision you set for yourself is devastating to your self-image.
So what happens? You end up burnt out and done.
Trying to get every detail just right takes away from the big picture and leads to a poor perspective.
You’re missing out on so much!
Perfectionism causes you to focus on the negative.
Things like what you should be doing, how you’re falling short, and why you’ll never be good enough are at the forefront of your thoughts.
You miss out on all the badassery you bring to the table!
You gotta learn the definition of good enough. Stay tuned cause we have a whole section dedicated to it.
Perfectionism can wreak havoc on your relationships!
If you’re constantly holding others to an unattainable standard you’ll tend to be less compassionate.
You’ll frustrate others with your incessant need to overwork and how you nitpick at EVERYTHING!
Imagine a world where no matter what you did or how hard you tried someone always had something criticizing to say about how you should have done it better or a different way…would you keep doing it?
Hell no! That’s how your partner feels every time you refold the towels or re-arrange the dishes in the dishwasher right after they loaded it.
Perfectionists also tend to be very passive-aggressive.
One of Garrett’s chief complaints about me in our almost 15-year marriage…
“I hate those little comments you make. Why can’t you just come out and say what you’re thinking?”
And can we just talk about being competitive? That need to be better than everyone else?
When #2/10 is unacceptable and #20/138 is just blasphemy.
Listen, I know what it feels like. If I’m not #1…I just suck. I’m not good enough.
This competitiveness can ruin perfectly good relationships.
Even now Garrett and I sometimes get heated over something as silly as a card game. (He’s nowhere near a perfectionist, he’s literally a walking opposition of it, but we’re both fiercely competitive)
We gotta work hard to keep it light-hearted to not affect our relationship.
Done is Better than Perfect
So what’s the first step in learning to get past perfectionism?
Say this out loud: Done is better than perfect.
That is all.
If you can learn and apply this principle, some crazy good shit will happen, I promise.
Boost in Confidence
Accepting that done is better than perfect lets you wrap up projects and tasks in a timelier manner.
You have a finished product to show the world.
It’s evidence of your hard work and abilities.
Even if it’s not absolutely to your specifications, chances are that it’s pretty good.
You can feel good about completing it and have something to show for your time. This leads to increased confidence.
Self-respect is closely related to the confidence you gain through increased productivity.
You’ll no longer have to be down on yourself for not getting the job done.
When you push through the anxiety of perfectionism and complete a project, you can actually look at what you’ve done and see it’s merit for yourself.
And hell, as a perfectionist, your done is probably better than 80% of the other dones out there! (That is a completely arbitrary number I made up off the top of my head…but you catch my drift.)
The point is, more than likely, the flaws you typically see that keep you from finishing tasks would probably go unnoticed by many.
Let’s use an example here, shall we?
Let’s say you have a YouTube channel (yes I am living vicariously through you) and it takes you a ridiculous amount of time to go from shoot to publish.
You find yourself continuously doing re-shoots or edits for the tiniest of things.
Make a list of those things you find yourself spending a lot of time on.
Now go watch some videos from some of the YouTubers you follow and respect. See if you notice any of those things in their videos.
Maybe they stumbled on their words, or a crash can be heard in the background. Something “imperfect” that you would normally fret over editing out or start over altogether over for.
Ask yourself, do those things drive you away from watching their videos? Or do you still get value from it?
Chances are, you’re overthinkin’ it.
Kick Perfectionism’s Ass & Get Over Yourself
Okey dokey, so how does one get over themselves and learn to overcome perfectionism?
Celebrate Small Successes
Start by celebrating small successes. 🥳
Keep a daily achievement journal so when you’re feeling down on yourself you can reflect on your accomplishments and remember that success doesn’t always = complete.
Stop Worrying People Won’t Like You
Here’s an important one to realize: People will still like you! Even if you aren’t perfect!
People probably aren’t judging you as harshly as you think they are.
In fact, you are your own worst critic.
And, YOU ARE MORE THAN YOUR WORK!
People will like and admire you for the person you are and the many badass traits you possess. (We’re getting to that part!)
In fact, others find it very hard to relate to perfectionists and likely appreciate knowing that you are not a super freak that no one could ever aspire to match.
Trust me, the people around you will appreciate the fact that you can show that you’re not perfect.
And to that end…
Stop Comparing Yourself to Others
We’re all perfectly imperfect, and constantly comparing yourself to others only leads to getting down on yourself.
For every trait they have that you wish you had…there is something you bring to the table that they envy as well.
Learn from Failure Instead of Avoiding It
Evaluate past mistakes and seek value in what you can learn from them.
Taking time to allow yourself to be less than perfect and to learn from your mistakes has tremendous value.
Failure itself has long been considered worthwhile when you understand how to process and learn from it.
When you make a mistake, you’re able to see where you went wrong and avoid making that same error in the future.
Ditch the All or Nothing Attitude
Success comes in progression. It’s ok to start a project without a full plan or process that took you a week to develop.
When you catch yourself in negative self-talk, write down 3 things you have accomplished lately that you are proud of or that further the current goal.
Make Time for Relationships
For the love of all things, stop working your ass off and make time for your relationships!
Get some much-needed relief and try as hard as you can to focus on something other than what you still need to work on.
The work will be there when you get back.
Learn. To. Delegate
Delegate and let go.
Force yourself to step away and let someone else help you.
Understand that it likely won’t be done exactly the way you would have done it…but it’s more than likely good enough.
See the Big Picture
Let me share another one of my mantra’s with you. When you find yourself stuck in a rut, unable to move forward, ask yourself:
“Is anybody gonna die?”
No joke. I use this one all the time.
If the answer is no…get over it and move on.
Lower Your Standards and Write Them Down
Now, before you start shaking your head or click off the page, hear me out. Lowering your standards does not mean you have to have piss poor standards.
We’ve established by now that your standards are ridiculously high, so we’re really just tryna bring you back down from the clouds. K? Good.
Now, let’s write down some limits. Here are some examples to get you started.
Limit yourself to 3 project revisions. After that, close the lid and call it done.
It’s good enough.
Set a maximum amount of hours to complete a project. If a certain type of project normally takes you five hours to complete, limit yourself to 2 or 3.
Set a timer for writing emails or texts. If you know you spend too much time thinking about an email or text and re-read it a million times before hitting send, set a timer for a reasonable amount of time.
When it goes off, hit send. NO MATTER WHAT!
The key here is to stick to it though. So writing them down gives you something tangible to refer back to.
I saved this one for last because, for one, it’s gonna be the hardest but ultimately it’s arguably the most powerful.
Remember when they said to get over your fears you have to face them?
Same principle applies here.
Identify your worst perfectionist tendencies and intentionally do the opposite.
Here are some examples:
Show up late to a meeting, on purpose.
I know, it’s going to be stressful. Just do it.
Send a text or an email that has a few mistakes in it, knowingly. Mark it down on your calendar or on a sticky note. In a day or two, ask yourself if anything bad came of it.
Spontaneously try a new restaurant without researching it first.
Get in your car and drive around. Pick somewhere completely random and try it out. You may find that you love it!
Play a sport or a game you’ve never tried before. Ugh, basketball anyone?
Here’s a good one, leave the dishes in the sink.
Ya’ll, this is one of the most powerful things someone has ever said to me.
Of course, there’s a story to it.
I was attending grief therapy with my younger sister a few years ago (that’s a story for another time) and somehow the counselor caught on to my perfectionist tendencies.
We talked about how much stress it caused me and my husband that I couldn’t tolerate any level of mess or disorganization around the house.
Remember when I told you I couldn’t go to bed if there were dishes left in the sink, even if I was already in bed?
Yeah, I told the counselor that and she looked me dead in the eye and said:
“What’s gonna happen if you leave the dishes in the sink?”
As much as I wanted to punch her in the face, because I also have to have an answer for everything, I didn’t have one.
All I could say was, “Nothing”.
“I’m gonna need you to leave the dishes in the sink.” She said.
Now, this lesson doesn’t have to just apply to the dishes. In fact, I use it as a lesson for many things.
I had two amazing women who worked for me back in 2015 who were the leaders of my team. But they were such workhorses and the tempo of our jobs was extremely high that they were suffering to get it all done to their level of satisfaction.
And let me just tell you, government finance is one of those jobs that never ends. You don’t put a bow on it at 4:30 PM every day and come back to a clean slate tomorrow.
They were so caught up in getting the job done and not letting the mission fail, that they were failing.
Their marriages were in shambles, they were stressed to the max and getting therapy for it, and worst of all they weren’t there as mentors for the junior folks working under them.
I pulled them aside and gave them the ole’ dishes in the sink talk.
If no one was gonna die, I needed them to start packing it up at a decent hour and going home to their families.
I needed more from them, but not in the way they thought.
One of them cried and said, “I am already giving all I have, how could I possibly give any more?”
I had to explain that they needed to reorganize their priorities and give more in certain areas and less in others.
They were reaching for an unattainable goal and it was causing all aspects of their lives to suffer and it was setting a bad example for their subordinates.
So, whatever your dishes are, leave’em in the sink…on purpose.
Use Perfectionism to Your Advantage
Ok, before we wrap it up, I wanna take a minute to talk about the positive attributes of a perfectionist.
There’s definitely some badassery that you bring to the table as a perfectionist.
It’s likely that your attention to detail is amazeballs.
And that means you’re probably really good at reviewing or looking over things for other people to see things they may have missed.
The work you produce is epic. Even though you may not think so, just know that because of your perfectionism, you work really hard at producing great work.
Betcha someone has even told you that before. Believe them.
You probably enjoy high-performance evaluations. And that in and of itself should speak to your value, even if in the past you didn’t see yourself as good enough.
Perfectionists also tend to be able to absorb high levels of information. What does that mean?
It means you’re probably really adept at being able to learn new things in a short period of time.
This is great for multipotentialites like me who love to jump around and learn about #allthethings.
And finally, you can use your high standards as motivation to get things done. You just have to learn how to not view everything as a potential failure.
Holy Shit that Was a Lot of Information
I never intended, nor did I imagine this post being so long when I sat down to write it.
But if you stuck with me till the end, first of all, congratulations.
But mostly, I hope that no matter what brought you here, you get some use out of it or it helps you in some way.
And with that, over to you.
Are you a perfectionist? Or do you know someone who is?
Let me know what you think in the comments below and as always, fire your questions at me!
Much love and till next time,