In my quest to write a perfect blog, while procrastinating with a slight fear of failing before I even get started, I will review with you a couple of ways to look at perfectionism. And perhaps through exploring those with you, I can help you and me identify some things we can both do to address that BIGG or little piece in each of us that may tend to be a perfectionist.
The first definition of PERFECTIONIST I looked up is a person who refuses any standard short of perfection. Other definitions linked it to a personality trait or type that strives for flawlessness and setting up high standards, accompanied by being overly critical of themselves and others. There is a connection between perfectionism and a fear of failure, and a need to be accepted.
I believe one can have high standards without some of the other things that go along with being a perfectionist. Once you have the emotional intelligence to recognize that you have some of the traits or qualities of being a perfectionist, you can work on addressing them for your own good, and the good of people around you, if you choose.
Many of you know that as a trainer and coach, I am a huge advocate of Gallup’s strengths-based leadership research. I love the idea that we need to focus on what’s right with people, rather than what is going wrong. This helps me manage perfection. In looking over Gallup’s 34 top leadership strengths’ “basements,” I found one that has “perfectionism,” and that is the strength called MAXIMIZER. Things like “never good enough” and “always reworking” and “picky” are part of the basement that can happen when you overuse it. It’s a strength I have that can make me a good coach. One that focuses on mastery, success, excellence, and working with the best. One that couples with my value that everyone can do their best, and everyone’s best can be different and EVERY kind and brand of excellence can be valued and rewarded. I believe people are perfect, not imperfect, just as they are.
As a coach, how I manage to keep from falling in the basement of “perfectionism” is that I believe in people and think they know how to solve their issues and move forward in their lives. Sometimes it just takes someone believing in them to help them do it. It’s not my job to tell them what they need to do, nor fix them. I honor and applaud their excellence.
Brene Brown, a well-known research professor, social worker, and five-time #1 New York Times best selling author, would suggest that PERFECTIONISM is a function of shame. Her definition is that perfectionism is a self-destructive belief system that fuels this primary thought – that if I look perfect or do everything perfectly, I avoid or minimize the painful feeling of blame, judgment, and shame.
It’s destructive because PERFECTION is an unattainable goal.
It’s getting sucked into proving I could do something versus PAUSING and stepping back and asking if I should do this, or if I want to do this.
I LOVE PAUSING.
Since my mother’s passing, I have worked a lot on emotional courage – to lean into and feel and identify the emotions I am experiencing, not judge them, but to sit with them and understand them, and explore if other choices could better serve me at some point. What’s the emotion that is behind this feeling of perfection? Am I feeling blame, judgment, or shame? What can I choose to do with it? How can I have a conversation with those I work with or someone who has dropped the ball without blaming, but just to talk about what happened so we can fix it and move on?
MOVE ON. LET IT GO.
How can we wade into our discomfort and vulnerability and tell the truth about our own stories, those real stories, those that we are not making up? Some of the other things that we can do that Brene and I and others may recommend addressing those areas of perfection that don’t serve us include:
*Say NO, not with an excuse, not with an explanation, just say NO. Set boundaries.
*Talk to ourselves like we would with someone we love. You are human. I am human. We all make mistakes.
As a leader, I would recommend that you HAVE to make mistakes and be vulnerable in front of other people, especially those you supervise so that they know that they can make mistakes too.
- Connect with someone who can respond with empathy and talk to them. Brene Brown suggests that shame cannot survive being spoken. Speak.
- Ask for help. Ask for your supervisor to help you prioritize. Quit picking up more work to do because no one else is. Hold people accountable. Give clear and honest feedback to them promptly.
- Catch people doing things right- celebrate victories and little or big WINS. Focus on gratitude. THANK people more.
- Ask for FEEDBACK from others…and don’t get defensive when you get it. Listen to it. Act on it.
And my favorite:
- Be a BADASS and don’t care what people think. Start “settling” a little bit more. Clarifying expectations is important, but you may need to lower expectations and standards …just because you can…and your expectations are not always reasonable or worth it.
According to Brene Brown, Perfection is the furthest thing from badassery.
Cindy Biggs is a leadership development expert working as a certified coach, mentor, and trainer. She started her encore career in 2012, as President of C. Biggs and Associates (www.SEEBIGG.com) after making a commitment to follow her dreams to be an entrepreneur and focus her top leadership strengths. She was CEO of Planned Parenthood of NC Ohio, based in Mansfield, for 20 years and VP of Organizational Development for 5 years after architecting a 5-way merger in NE Ohio with 4 other women to create a large, regional non-profit, Planned Parenthood of NE Ohio in Akron. Her volunteer work focuses on women’s empowerment and leadership development with nonprofits, including Central America Medical Outreach in Santa Rosa de Copan and the League of Women Voters. She lives in Wooster and Howard with her husband Jeff and cat Colt.
What is the courage to live a vital life? What do these words really mean? The phrase sounds good, so what do you really have to do to live a vital life? I googled the phrase, and the words, and began to write. I do not consider myself to be courageous but I do try to live a life that is, well, vital.
I am blessed in many ways; my health, my family, my job, and the people I know and love. I try my best to make people feel special and validated. Sometimes I miss the mark, but I keep trying. In general, I think I have a positive outlook on life. I want to make life the best it can be, not only for myself but also for the people who share the world with me.
In regard to the courage to live a vital life, I found a quote by Brene Brown who defined courage as follows: “The root of the word courage is cor – the Latin word for heart. (Coronary). In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant “To speak one’s mind by telling all in one’s heart.” Over time, this definition has changed, and today, we typically associate courage with heroic and brave deeds.”
After researching courage, I looked up the word vital. It is defined by Dictionary.com as something that is absolutely essential or necessary to sustain life. If you connect these two definitions, we can conclude that speaking one’s mind by telling all that is in your heart (a.k.a. courage) is essential to living a vital life.
Telling all that is in your heart requires you to be yourself and express it in how you live. You must exercise courage in order to live up to your full potential and leave your mark on the world. Further, we have to have courage in order to take advantage of the opportunities that life offers.
Opportunities… how do you take advantage of them? I have found you must grab a hold of the reins of your life. Do not let someone else direct you. Go somewhere new, take a class, try to meet new people, and do new things. Do something different. Surround yourself with the best people you know.
In short, the courage to live a vital life is to explore, love, cry, and laugh with everything you have inside you.
Sally J. Gesouras is a commercial loan officer for Mechanics Bank in Mansfield, Ohio. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Toledo and a Master’s degree in Executive Management from Ashland University. Sally and her husband, Nick, live in Lexington, Ohio.
Ok. So let’s be honest right up front. No matter how I start this BLOG post off I will shuffle half a dozen more ideas around in my head and even after this is written I will critique it and ultimately decide that one of the other ideas was probably better. The chatter in my head cheers ‚ “All or None and It’s Never Really Done” which sums up the constant processing that goes on in my mind. So WARNING: if you decide to keep reading you may end up running circles in my head with me.
When my friend first approached me about writing/speaking about perfectionism I was intrigued and immediately began scanning my memory files for content. Do I know enough? Am I the best fit? Have I taken a class in it? Who do I know that is a perfectionist? Wait do I even know what a perfectionist is? Am I a perfectionist?
Well, my daughter helped answer the last question. When I mentioned to her I would be speaking about overcoming perfectionism she said ‚ “How can you teach what you haven’t figured out?”
Ding! Ding! Ding!
Yes. I guess I must have a few “perfectionary” habits. After accepting these truths I explained to my daughter my teaching style. I either teach what I know or I research the topic and remain willing to receive input from my audience. (P.S. You are my audience and participation is welcomed!)
I think it is important before we go any further for us to find common ground. When I discuss Perfection or Perfectionism I’m not specifically talking about physical perfection like the symmetry of size shape color or order. These external differences can be organized manipulated and demonstrated.
The perfectionism I am referencing can’t be seen it occurs in the mind. It is a constant seek and find mission within your brain to present the best most accurate information or solution every time the need arises. In its best form perfectionism provides sharpness clarity speedy responses and enhances with each new piece of information. At its worst, it can be debilitating and leave the thinker feeling abandoned like they are in a boat with one oar spinning in circles. Perfectionism also demands emotional perfection which I equate to balance and certainty under pressure. The difficulty though is that perfection is based on our own perceptions.
Here is where every single one of us will differ. Our perceptions come from our own life experiences. They are as unique as our fingerprints.
Example: If you grew up in the city and you loved it. You would decide the city is a perfect place to live. However, if I grew up in the country I may think the country is perfect. Uh Oh. Who’s right? Both of us! It is false to believe that everyone has the same definition of what perfection looks like. Yet to a perfectionist getting as close to “perfect” in everything is the goal.
This leads us to the next challenge for a “perfectionary” person: Developing Unrealistic Expectations. If I can not get into your head and know your “perfect” how can I achieve it? And, if we have determined that my perfect only applies to me how can I expect to become the perfect person for everyone? How can I measure my success at perfection? What scale determines absolute correctness when each person’s perception varies?
Here comes the truth.
Ready for it?
Perfection is impossible because it doesn’t exist!
Your idea of perfection and mine are not the same; therefore I can not predict or complete perfection based on a scale or expectation other than my own. Expecting people to “be perfect” and “get” that your perfect is unrealistic and unfair.
So my question to all of you is “What is the purpose of seeking perfection?
In my research and my life ultimately perfectionism is about control. The control of your own circumstances or trying to control others. Perfection becomes a way to reconcile our inability to foresee another person’s response so we “hyper-control” our own. It is easier to run after perfection than face the fear of failing others.
Perfectionism or Excellence
According to psychologist Don Hamachek in a 1978 study, there are two strains of perfectionism: normal and neurotic. “The normal perfectionist strives for high standards but doesn’t let that affect her happiness. She is satisfied in her pursuit. But the neurotic perfectionist is miserable‚ “her happiness is linked directly to the achievement or non-achievement of impossible goals. Because of this she often falls prey to obsessive tinkering and procrastination.”
I thought it is important to share that neurotic perfectionism is different than obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCD). Though an OCD sufferer has a compulsion that sometimes relieves an obsession she knows that that behavior is “wrong” and irrational. The neurotic perfectionist believes that in spite of the pain she’s enduring her perfectionism is helping her reach standards she otherwise couldn’t.
I have to tell you after I read the description above I started to wonder am I normal or neurotic? After taking several self-assessments and even a few FB quizzes (because we know how accurate they are) I’m relieved to tell you that I am not a 100% Perfectionist. (I am also not narcissistic or egotistical but I am a Hufflepuff). But seriously I personally don’t believe perfection is taught as much as modeled and probably a wee bit hard-wired. I have observed several people in my life especially family members that have set the standards in my mind for perfection… no, let’s call it excellence.
(i.e. Since we determined above that perfectionism isn’t possible and even potentially neurotic it’s time to choose a more accurate term. I’ve chosen excellence.)
My mother seemed to be a master at everything; cooking cleaning sewing gardening and listening. My father was a police officer and my gold standard for hard work effort dedication and loyalty. They have always carried themselves in humility and dedicated their lives to service to others. You’ve met people like them. They live every part of their lives with excellence as their purpose. So emulating my parents is not a bad decision – but here is where the danger lies in imitating others. When we try so hard to be like other people, we risk losing who we are or who we are meant to be. I may never be a great cook or rescue someone in trouble but my desire for excellence has given me an eye for design, a craving for teaching, and a passion for people. My brain churns out endless ideas which are great for marketing and my constant “what-ifing” may one day change the world or at least somebody’s world.
I’ve found that Bravery Over Perfection comes when you are willing to inspect your strengths and weaknesses. It’s the willingness to question what you believe and why consistently. It considers another person’s view as viable until proven or disproven. Bravery emerges when we embrace failure as taking that one daring step past fear and it’s when we recognize that excellence comes not in being flawless, but fearless.
Kym Lamb is the owner of Integrity Project Management a Social Media and Project Management Company. She is married to an incredibly patient man and is blessed to be Mom to 3 budding adults and one hopelessly spoiled pooch. She loves to sing, write, read and discover Richland County’s unique people and places. Kym is the current chair of the Richland County Mental Health & Recovery Services Board and encourages everyone to know how to find help for yourself or others. Our local information line is 2-1-1 and if you find yourself in CRISIS please call 419 522-HELP (4357). #KnowItB4UNeedIt