“Perfectionism is just fear dressed in fancy shoes” Elizabeth Gilbert
‘I am not a perfectionist’ I calmly and convincingly told my friend after she dared to accuse me of that terrible affliction. My idea of a ‘perfectionist’ was someone who was crippled by having to have something,anything perfect before they would leave it to be shown, released or delivered. I know people who are self-confessed perfectionists and this is not me if anything I could be accused of just letting it do, particularly when it comes to the ironing! At the same time, having the balance of delivering value when I am being of service for example teaching or coaching is really important to me. Plus the standard dictionary definition is “refusal to accept any standard short of perfection”, that surely does not fit my description…
Yet here we were my good friend and me at a stalemate, she was not giving in and my convincing explanation did not ‘cut the mustard’ as they say. After our conversation, I found myself pondering ‘perfectionism’ after all I respected my friend’s view; isn’t it always a good idea to make improvements to oneself to further life fulfilment and feelings of happiness? I needed to investigate, if I had any of this troubling ‘perfectionism’ I ought to find out. Ah, what I found both fascinated and surprised me.
let’s explore the evidence:
I have never been particularly vain, I like to feel good in my clothes and makeup, but don’t wear or spend over the odds on makeup, spend or have a clothes shopping obsession or a need to please people with what I wear (or at least this is what I believe to be true…) I rarely ask the opinion, or what another is wearing to an event, generally choosing to go with what I feel is right. On closer inspection, don’t I sometimes avoid wearing something in case it does not fulfil another person expectation of me…
I do like a clean house and can confess I have broken down into tears of pressure, after failing to reach my previous cleaning standards. I also like to be organised with a knowing that keeping on top of things is a good place to be for my mental state. However, here follows another confession, at one point a few years ago I cried because I had forgotten to buy a snack for my daughters and her friends when it was my turn, in my defence there was a lot going on at work and I hadn’t reached my current point of personal growth or learning about self-care or meditating for that matter. Mmmm, a few potential issues here.
When I write a blog post, an article or a lesson, I check it over but generally feel confident to send it or deliver it where it needs to go without too much procrastination. No sign of the P word here! If I am being completely honest, there have been a few times that I have required reassurance or fallen into a pit of fear about saying the wrong thing or making a mistake in an important meeting. Is this really perfectionism though?
As a mum, I believe it is important for my children to know that being imperfect is okay as is the feeling of fear, but still reaching out of your comfort zone. I feel honesty is important and I often find myself apologising to my girls for overreacting or making a mistake, after all, I am only human. Surely, modelling perfectionism can be damaging to our youth? Our job as parents I feel is to tell them, ‘although you will always be perfect in our eyes, you are an imperfect being wired for a struggle but you are enough, you are loved, belong and are worthy of greatness.’
I remember listening to Tony Robbins speak on a Tim Ferris podcast episode, as an expert coach he spoke with energy about how our perceived expectations from our parents condition much of how we respond to situations and people now. I can relate to this as I am sure you can and it made me think about the expectations I place into my own children. These are not always negative and I certainly would not be the loving person I am now without my parent’s views and parenthood has its own societal expectations too. Anyway, this brings us back to the ‘perfectionism’ traits can you think of any areas where you may have carried this from a parental expectation? The thing is when we are aware of a shadow or something which is blocking us in some way, then this is powerful because we can work on it. When we are not aware what to change, we certainly can not change it.
Interestingly my fixed idea of perfectionism took a paradigm shift after reading articles and speaking to others, I realised that we all have some areas in our lives where the perfectionist will rear up and this can manifest itself into just another word for fear. Certainly being a ‘perfectionist’ can be a positive attribute leading to wonderful outcomes, although there may be parts of our lives where perfectionism can cripple us, result in procrastination, avoidance, and actually a huge fear of what may be our greatness.
Think about the following, are these familiar in any part of your life?
- Do you make never ending lists to go on a trip not knowing when to stop or argue over a point keeping going even when everyone else has lost interest?
- Do you put something off and not bother starting a project for fear that you won’t be able to finish or do well?
- Do you read extremely slow just in case you miss an essential point?
- Do you have problems making a decision in any particular area of your life?
The list could go on! The point is, if like me you thought you were not a perfectionist and now find that maybe you are in some areas of your life, what can you do to release or relax these tendencies?
I realise that every day I work on releasing the need to be perfect from all areas of my life. Some days I am more successful in this than others. Sometimes the little demon ‘P’ creeps up from the ego mind telling me ‘who am I to dare to write a book or blog or even give anyone else advice and so it is a journey, a path to perfecting being imperfect.
Good luck on your own journey to imperfection, lots of love and health,
Advice from the amazing author Elizabeth Gilbert as read from ‘Big Magic’
‘Love with our whole hearts even when there is no guarantee’
‘Practise gratitude and love and joy without catastrophizing’