Throughout the last couple of days I have been procrastinating over writing my next blog post. At the time I thought my apparent bout of ‘writers’ block’ could be due to the holiday vibe kicking in. However, on closer inspection of my true thoughts and feelings, I realised my procrastination was a direct result of my good ol’ friend perfectionism, stopping in to make her acquaintance with me again.
The whispers of ‘advice’ translated in my mind something like:
“You don’t have enough research or information to write a blog on this topic”
“You will make mistakes, and there is no room for mistakes here”
“This topic won’t be good enough to blog about – and no one is going to read it, so you might as well not do it”
The reality is procrastination and perfectionism are close allies and often go hand-in-hand.
For me, where there is procrastination, it is most often because her sister, perfectionism, is standing right behind chanting “there is no room for mistakes or a less than stellar performance.”
Perfectionism is defined by Wikipedia as an individual “striving for flawlessness and setting excessively high performance standards, accompanied by overly critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others’ evaluations.”
Like many human characteristics which hold us back in life, the trouble with perfectionism is it will have served us to some greater (or lesser) extent in our lives.
Several years ago my husband tentatively pointed out I might have a slight dose of perfectionism (yes, he is a brave man). He introduced me to a brilliant book called Perfectionism: A Sure Cure for Happiness, and the insights I gained from reading this book were sobering.
Secretly I had always been proud of my perfectionist streak. After all, is that not what had been the cause of my great performances and achievements in life? Surely my top grades, stellar performance appraisals, strict rule following and (my all-time favourite) constant people pleasing were attributed to my perfectionist nature?
As I read the book and learned more about this concept, I discovered perfectionism is in fact, counterproductive to achieving success. My most alarming discovery was I had been projecting my perfectionist tendencies onto my children, my team, and most probably my husband as well.
Here are my 4 top reasons why perfectionism can hamper success, leadership, and prevent us from achieving what we want in life:
1. It is paralysing. Take my own example, for instance. I know too well the addictive nature of not wanting to put something out for the world to see due to the risk of it being scrutinized, or not being ‘up to scratch’.
2. Perfectionism can lead us to miss out on great opportunities. The worry, anxiety and time wasting involved in over-analyzing whether or not what we produce is good enough, may lead us to hesitate – and miss the boat altogether.
3. It is self-destructive. There is no such thing as perfect. If you are a struggling perfectionist, ensure you remember this statement. Perfection is an illusion – it is simply unobtainable. If we neglect to realise this statement, and continue to strive for that which does not exist (i.e. perfection), the shame and judgement we cast upon ourselves compounded by self-criticism and negative self-talk, may limit our self confidence and potential.
4. Perfectionism can alienate. This is especially important to consider if you are leading others.
Are you putting the same unrealistic expectations on others as you do on yourself?
What impact is your perfectionism having on others around you?
Imagine for a moment the freedom of eliminating the pursuit of perfection from your life – and realising there is no such thing as perfect, you are exactly as you are meant to be.
In my next blog post I will talk about perfectionist indicators, and how to recognise it when it appears.
As a ‘recovering perfectionist’ I would love to hear from others who have also been hampered by it.
How has perfectionism stymied your success or growth as a leader – and what steps have you taken to overcome it?