Being a perfectionist can often mean you get stuck or don’t complete tasks because you never feel they are up to your own set of standards. A writer would never press send or publish, a designer would never have their new outfits in a shop, a manager would return to the drawing board again and again rather than giving the official go ahead. Does this sound like you? Are you a perfectionist?
There is even a term for this fear. Atelophobia is an anxiety disorder that describes the genuine fear of imperfection and not being good enough.
As a therapist and ‘Writing from The Source’ workshop facilitator, ‘perfectionism’ is the number one obstacle identified as getting in the way of completing tasks (procrastination and self doubt are the next two). People would rather not complete (or even start) new projects than have to deal with failure. Perfectionism unintentionally gets translated in to fear.
Rather than holding this as an excuse — it’s a good one I know, isn’t it better to deal with it instead? How do we deal with perfectionism? The trick is knowing what it means. What is perfect? If we are all striving toward it, shouldn’t we know what it is?
Let’s start with a couple of simple questions. Have you ever read the perfect book? I don’t mean a good book, a great book, an amazing, interesting or enthralling book, I mean the perfect book! Can you name it? Do you own the perfect outfit, dress, suit, jeans or skirt? Does this outfit always make you feel good? Is this outfit great for that occasion or is it in itself perfect? Do you see where I am going with this? ‘Perfect,’ the way we see it (or think we see it) does not really exist. It is an illusion that we can spend hours, days or years trying to achieve and it isn’t real. It is a bit like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
As a former photographer I have followed many a rainbow in the hope of finding this pot. After far too many attempts, I now know this is not real. If we continue to hold on to the illusion of ‘perfection’, we can spend a lifetime feeling like we have failed. So, why are we all striving to reach something that’s not real?
What does ‘perfect’ mean? What is its actual definition? Here are a few synonyms: Ideal or great – you can do this. Complete – umm, so finish it. Accurate – check your facts. Many of the synonyms for ‘perfect’ are achievable. You know you can do this, right? Great, accurate, complete? You would do this every day without even thinking about it. If you take the word ‘perfect’ out of being the driver of your work (I’m going to write the ‘perfect’ blog) or the obstacle (but it will never be ‘perfect’ and get published) that stops you, the possibilities are endless.
Without perfection, what is left? For many the answer is “self-doubt”.If the work is not perfect, then maybe it is not that great either, and then what will people think of me? What we are doing here is debunking the myth of perfectionism, taking out the stress and fear, not lowering your standard of work. Self-doubt is perfectionism’s silent partner, the one we don’t really want to talk about. We can say proudly “I am a perfectionist” but we would never exclaim proudly to have self-doubt or be afraid of being judged. We fear this makes us sound weak and small.
The problem is we are trying to please everyone. We want everyone to like us. We want everyone to think we are smart. And like finding the pot of gold, it will never happen. We just can’t please everyone and nor should we try. People are different and have different likes and dislikes and different tastes. That is all OK. Accept it.
You should do things for yourself. Do them with honesty and integrity. If you do this you don’t need to doubt. Will there be mistakes? Yes, probably. This is OK too. Learn from them. Perfect, perfectionism, perfectionist – these are all not real. Know this. Stop wasting your time. Stop the stressing, stop chasing that pot of gold and just get on with it. Publish your blog, have your new clothes range in your favourite shop and make final decisions. Stop worrying and start doing.
(This is an abbreviated version of an article first published in the Huffington Post)