Dealing With Perfectionism

Nothing I do is perfect. There, I said it. It’s a tough admission, though. I’ve always wanted to make sure that the things I do are done perfectly. When I design web layouts for clients, or other artwork/collateral, I’m always very detail-oriented, making sure that the project is done perfectly down to the last pixel. Many try and proclaim that perfectionism is not a bad thing. I used to subscribe to the same philosophy. I have learned, though, that I am much happier, stress-free, and more productive when I don’t try and be a perfectionist. I’ve also realized that perfectionism is caused by insecurity and it can show itself as procrastination – something I’ve struggled with for as long as I can remember.

Perfectionism and Insecurity

Over the years, as I’ve learned to be more consciously aware of myself and my actions, I’ve noticed something about myself: I’m a perfectionist, and according to Wikipedia’s article on perfectionism, I’m one of the “normal” ones. Yes, perfectionism is considered a mental disease, and obviously there are scales in which people exist with the condition. As a “normal” perfectionist, I “derive a very real sense of pleasure from the labors of a painstaking effort.” Huh? Oh, yeah, I like when the stuff I do is done perfectly.

Here’s the reality, though, as I’ve already said: nothing I do is perfect. You can see my dilemma here. If I derive real pleasure from being perfect, but nothing I do actually is perfect, I’m in a position for obvious disappointment. But why do I have perfectionist tendencies in the first place? That was a question I started asking myself years ago as I was learning about the subject and how it relates to my life. As I studied and researched, I quickly learned that perfectionism is rooted in the depths of insecurity.

Feeling insecure is incredibly easy to do. All it takes is one small slip of the tongue in an elementary school classroom that causes all the kids in the class to point their fingers and laugh. No one likes to be laughed at. We all want to be loved, liked, respected, popular, and admired – even if we think we don’t. Not knowing how to deal with the ridicule, I bottled up the feelings of insecurity, and started to realize that if I didn’t over-extend myself, and kept my mouth shut, I didn’t have to deal with ridicule. I also discovered that if I did well on something, and didn’t share it with anyone, I was able to take pride in the small, supposed victories of doing “better” than the others around me.

As I continued down this path of insecurity and introversion, I developed an ugly side effect of being a perfectionist: I started to judge others for their work and actions. By the time I was in my late teens, I had developed a deep belief that I was genuinely better than other people. Whether it was intelligence, or some other quality, I believed I was better. The more insecure about myself I got, the more I pushed it off by proclaiming I was actually better than those around me.

What a slippery slope I was on.

All this was going on, of course, without me really even knowing it. It wasn’t until just a few years ago that I started to recognize that I was so insecure and that I was masking that insecurity through judging others and looking down on them.

Perfectionism and Procrastination

When you want everything you do to be perfect, sometimes the easiest way to avoid disappointment seems to be to simply not do anything at all. Sure, there is the reality that things need to be done eventually, or greater consequences will occur. By procrastinating, though, we think we can avoid the negatives of not attaining perfection.

Ask any employer or human resources director what they think when they hear a job candidate proclaim positively that they are perfectionist and you’ll discover that they don’t like hearing it. In the vast majority of workplace circumstances, a perfectionist is much less productive than a “get-it-done” personality type. While the get-it-done type might make more mistakes, they tend to produce more. In business, production matters the most; with the exception of a limited few professions, like surgery, bomb dis-arming, etc.

For the vast majority of us, the pursuit of perfection is simply a waste of time. Most people don’t truly need things to be perfect. They just need to work. They just need to get the job done. Wait, what about doing things “right?” Right and perfect are two different things. They may be cousins, but they are not so closely related that they should be considered the same. Doing things right means doing them in a way that they work, in all aspects, but it doesn’t mean necessarily doing them in a way that the end result is perfect.

My Greatest Fear

I don’t fear death. I don’t proclaim to know exactly where I’m going; though I do believe I have a pretty good idea. I know that death is inescapable, and so I have learned to accept it and not fear it. No, my greatest fear is to screw up. I don’t like doing something wrong, not so much because of the action itself, but because of the inevitable consequences that follow. Ridicule, disgust, disappointment, anger, getting fired, the list goes on. I know that if I screw something up, chances are pretty good that someone else is going to take notice, and then present their annoyance, frustration, or anger at my not performing perfectly.

My solution has been to try and make everything perfect, and I’ll avoid these circumstances. But life has taught me that it doesn’t work this way, no matter what I do. I have started many businesses. The first one technically failed. I say technically because I don’t like viewing it as a failure; instead, it was a learning experience. Like Neo in The Matrix, everyone falls the first time – it doesn’t mean anything. One of the major things I attribute to learning through that experience was that perfection isn’t what mattered. I used to worry about how my staff said things, what they wore to work, how they acted outside of work. All this clouded my mental focus on the things that really mattered: producing results.

Conscious Pursuit of Excellence Instead of Perfection

Upon recognizing that I have perfectionist tendencies, and that they are rooted in a deep sense of insecurity, I learned that there is an alternative mindset that is better suited to happiness in life: excellence.

The pursuit of excellence drives me to do well in anything I do, but it also frees me of the fear of failure and disappointment through striving for perfection. Perfection is impossible. Realize that nothing is perfect. Everything has flaws. There is no escaping it; it’s how we were built. Realizing that perfection is impossible, I’ve learned to pursue excellence instead. I work daily at letting go of worrying about every detail when I’m working on a project.

This blog is a prime example of my implementation of this idea. I used to spend 2-3 hours on one blog post, and it seldom produced results. I would agonize about hitting the publish button. Was it perfect? Did I miss any typos? Did I categorize it the right way? The worries would rush through my brain like a Maglev.

Now, I typically finish a post within an hour, research and all, and I seldom write a post without it being in one sitting and without hitting publish the instant I’ve read through it once to check for obvious errors and mistakes. The content I produce now actually has yielded greater conversation and has increased my traffic more than anything I’ve produced in the past.

By pursuing excellence, I’ve discovered the error in pursuing perfection. It’s a bit ironic, that I can do more, and achieve more, by not pursuing perfection, intentionally. By letting go of the fear of doing things imperfectly, I’m able to gain a greater positive experience in life. I stress less, I worry less, I do more, and I achieve more.

Helpful Information on Perfectionism

2 thoughts on “Dealing With Perfectionism”

  1. Thanks for posting this. I learned a lot. I have a husband and a daughter who are perfectionist and this has really helped me to understand them better. I am very happy for you. I mean that you discovered these truths in yourself. Thank God for the wisdom He gives us. He is such a generous God.

Comments are closed.