I’ve been a perfectionist my entire life (just ask anyone who knows me). I’ve even worn those titles – perfectionist, over-achiever – like a badge of honor, proud of just how much I was achieving with little to no struggle. I was a straight A student, graduating from Michigan State with honors. I excelled in nearly everything I was involved in. I rarely faced a challenge I couldn’t easily overcome.
And now, I’m pretty sure that wasn’t a good thing.
Here’s what I believe happens to perfectionists when they enter “the real world”:
- You take criticism (even if it’s constructive) really hard because you’ve never really gotten it before
- You live in fear of screwing up because you might disappoint someone (a huge driver of perfectionism)
- You have a hard time taking risks because you might make a mistake or something could go wrong
- You’re always questioning your own abilities because what used to make you feel confident – being highly capable in everything – doesn’t come so easily anymore
- Any small mistake or failure seems epically larger than it is
- You put more pressure on yourself to get things right the first time than anyone else does, for fear of letting someone see weakness or vulnerability
And if that’s not what happens to all perfectionists, at the very least it’s what happened to me.
In my job, like most, there is no perfect. There’s always something that could be done differently or better. There’s always someone asking if you had thought about things another way or asking your motives behind a decision (even if it was the right one, the fear of there being a chance you did something wrong is terrifying). All of these things are part of learning and growing but, while I know that to be true, it’s a hard pill to swallow.
So, I’ve decided that, moving forward, I’m working to fight my perfectionist leanings and I encourage others to as well. Do your best, yes, but also:
- Stop being afraid to screw up!
- Go out of your way to do things where you might make mistakes
- Learn from those mistakes
- Surround yourself with people who encourage and support risk-taking (aka they tell you to get on the trapeze because they will be your net if you fall)
- Try new things
- Actively remind yourself that you don’t have to be perfect to be awesome (say it to your reflection in the mirror each morning!)
Perfection isn’t a compliment – it’s a straight jacket, holding us back from going out and doing all the amazing things that are out in the world. Stop being a perfectionist, but keep being awesome and imagine where it could lead.