Why the Pursuit of Perfection is Riddled with Flaws

Point of Arrival Katrina Calihan.jpg

It doesn’t take much investigation to reveal why so many of us have been hooked by perfectionism.  Through bombardment of mainstream and social media – where so much of what is celebrated is airbrushed and what is showcased is a selective editorial of only our fabulous moments – the message is clear: being perfect, whether it’s having career success, physical beauty, or having the perfect family, is the path to happiness and worthiness.  Many of us received messages from the time we were small that perfect performance and behavior bought us love and attention.  Pressure to pursue perfection is pervasive, but the path is riddled with flaws.  It’s time we wake up and create a new aspiration to live authentically instead of perfectly.

I know you’re probably thinking that your boss wants you to be perfect at work, but I would guess you’re wrong.  Perfectionism has a dark side, and it’s distinctly different from being hard working, having appreciation of excellence, holding high standards, and being committed to results.  Everyday in my coaching practice with clients, I see the damage derived from perfectionism.  A few of its hallmarks are:

  • Holding yourself to an unattainable bar that sets you up for disappointment and the feeling of ‘never [fill in the blank] enough’
  • Overworking in an unsustainable way that leads to burnout
  • Not producing timely results because you’re over-iterating
  • Micromanaging your teammates in an attempt to control every detail
  • Adopting a self-critical and judgmental inner voice that is harsh on yourself
  • Playing it safe and not taking risks for fear of failure
  • Hiding mistakes and pretending you’re ok, even when you’re crumbling inside
  • Never asking for help for fear you’ll be found out as an imposter

For most people, all this striving for perfection strips us of true satisfaction, happiness and actually enjoying our work and lives.  Perfection is a dangerous path where people are especially prone to the error of thinking that self-worth is equivalent to the ability to be perfect.  In the end, perfectionism is an anxiety inducing, often obsessive, and disconnected way of living your life.

The good news and bright side is that with courage, self-awareness, openness, and willingness to experiment and dispute your thinking, you can unravel and eventually undo perfectionism.  Here are some tips and actions to help you along your path to authenticity:

  • Become aware of your inner voice – notice how you talk to yourself and begin talking to yourself like you would a sweet friend, with compassion
  • Embrace that what you do, how you look, what others think of you, how successful you are, etc., does not equal who you are – you get to create your identity and self-worth
  • Ask for help when you need it – and pay attention to what happens
  • Take a risk or try something that feels out of your comfort zone – we learn so much through new experiences and mistakes
  • Admit your mistakes – especially at work, your team wants to know you are human.  It gives them permission to be honest about their mistakes with you
  • Know when good enough is enough – challenge yourself to prioritize what needs more attention and what does not
  • Don’t boil the ocean – focus on the 80/20 rule – what 20% of activities will give you 80% of the results
  • When someone else comes up less than perfect, be compassionate - none of us are perfect
  • Reach out and get support to build resilience – share what you’re working on with a friend, trusted colleague, mentor or coach – ask for accountability 

When we hang up perfection for authenticity, we make way for courageous connection, richer learning experiences, cultivation of a growth mindset, honest living, and perhaps the best gift of all – an improved, more loving relationship with ourselves. Let's let the ivory tower of perfection fall!

May you embrace your imperfections today, and may you still be perfectly enough, Katrina