PERFECTIONISM: Where is it stifling you?
by Margie Warrell
Speaking recently at physician’s conference I asked the 100 or so people in attendance if any of them considered themselves to be a perfectionist. As you might expect from a group of doctors, there were only a few hands that were not raised into the air.
You, like many of the physicians who were seated in the audience, might be thinking “But it’s important to do the best I can and try to have things be perfect. It wouldn’t be right to lower my standards just because that was easier.”
Of course, if someone was operating on my heart, building my home or installing brakes in my car I would indeed hope that they had very high ‘perfectionist’ standards. It goes without saying that there are many many situations in which is it extremely important to have things be perfect. But it also needs to be said that there are many many situations in which in which it is not! The problem arises when we fail to discern between the two. When we fail to ask ourselves “Does this really matter?” our quest for perfection not only fails to serve us, but it’s also does a disservice to those around us and to the world at large.
Perfectionism can stifle us in three ways. First of all, it limits the actions and risks we take (and so the results we produce) because we are afraid of messing up or looking, well… less than perfect. It’s a good thing we adults learnt to walk as toddlers during a time of life we had yet to be conditioned to think that we had to do things just perfectly. I mean, just think about how many adults who never learnt to swim as children refuse to learn as adults. Why? Because they don’t want to have to go through the same learning curve that every child must go through in order to stay afloat. As Winston Churchill once said “The maxim ‘Nothing avails but perfection’, may be spelled PARALYSIS.”
Not only does our desire to have to do things faultlessly keep us from taking on new and more inspiring challenges in our lives, but perfectionism can also limit how successful we are in fulfilling our current responsibilities and accomplishing the goals we already have. I would not have sat down to write this newsletter if my house first had to be perfect and I’d get even less done each day if my kids had to be dressed impeccably before they ventured outdoors (hence why my 5 year old son Ben, very proud of dressing himself this morning, headed off to school wearing green socks, green shorts and a green t-shirt). Likewise I often find that my clients are held back their level of effectiveness because they are afraid to risk being seen as less than perfect.
It’s just so easy to fall into a trap of spending hours, days, weeks and sometimes years (!) focused on making something be “just perfect” that, in the big scheme of life, really isn’t that important. This is why its pays to continually ask yourself, “Is what I’m spending my time and energy on really important – does this really matter?”
My colleague Richard Carlson wrote a book a few years back called “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff”. It became a best seller because it spoke to the part of all of us that gets so caught up doing exactly the opposite. The fact is that life’s richness comes from finding the courage to let go the small stuff to make room for the bigger, more meaningful, stuff. Spending your days preoccupied and complaining about “the small stuff” doesn’t honor who you are. You are worthy of so much more. So too are those around you.
Finally, I perfectionism stifles our ability to enjoy our lives fully; to be fully present and grateful for the many great things we have in our life. When you are focused on everything that isn’t “just right” in your life – whether your body, your spouse, your home, your kids or your job – it prevents you from being truly present to all that is. Life’s perfection actually exists in its imperfection. As Yogi Berra, the legendary manager of the New York Yankees once said, “If life was perfect, it wouldn’t be.” You can’t always see the perfection of life in the moment through the narrow lens of where you stand today, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there.
By making it a practice to ask yourself if the stuff you are expending your precious time and energy on is worthy of you, you can free yourself up to step into life more powerfully and enjoy it more fully. On that note, I invite you to reflect these questions:
- Where have you been holding back and procrastinating about doing something you really want to do because you aren’t sure you will do it right or that it will turn out perfectly?
- What have you been continually complaining or uptight about (because it get in the way of your life being perfect) that has been taking you away from all that is great in your life?
- What “big stuff” could you attend to if you just gave up being preoccupied with the “small stuff”?
- Who might you invite over for a coffee or meal if you let go having to have your home perfectly in order to do so?
- How might you be more present and loving with your spouse or your kids or your co-workers if you let go having to have them be perfect?
- What concerns might you speak up about if you didn’t first need to know how to express yourself perfectly?
- What opinions might you put forward if you didn’t first need to think you knew all the answers?
- How might it shift the way you felt about your body if you could accept that it was beautiful despite the extra pounds or dimply thighs?
- How might you enjoy life more if you could be at peace with your life right now despite those aspects that aren’t quite as you’d like them to be?
- What difference would it make it your daily experience of life if you could just accept and love yourself more fully (imperfections and all!)?
My challenge to you today is to make a renewed commitment to letting go ‘the small stuff’ that wastes your time and energy and fails to enrich the quality of your daily experience. Doing so will enable you to see all around you new opportunities to take on ‘bigger stuff’ that not only infuses your life with greater meaning, but calls upon you to be more than you have been up until now… despite your imperfections.
What could be more perfect!? 🙂
Margie Warrell is an Executive & Life Coach, Speaker and Author based in the Washington DC area. Margie works with individuals, teams and organizations to improve communication, develop leadership, and achieve the success and make the difference they are capable of. As a mother of four, Margie has a strong interest in helping professional women develop their innate leadership ability and find the courage to pursue that inspire them – personally and professionally – while leading more rewarding and balanced lives. For more information, visit Margie’s website at http://www.margiewarrell.com