If no one expects us to be perfect, why do we continue to have anxiety attacks about this? And why are we obsessed with the notion that someday someone is going to discover we’re imperfect? Believe me, everyone already knows that!
We are all imperfect beings; each with our own unique weaknesses, scars, and blemishes. And yet many of us have unrealistic and damaging expectations that perfection is within our mortal reach. We continue to hold on to the belief that perfection is available to us if we just try harder or hide our authentic selves from others so no one else can see beyond our façade. It’s a fruitless effort that requires an enormous amount of energy. And instead of channeling all that energy to more positive initiatives, we use the full force of it to beat ourselves up. Why do we beat ourselves up? Because we’re not perfect. In extreme cases, I’ve had clients beat themselves up over the fact that they beat themselves up. No kidding!
Where does this need to be perfect come from? Some may attribute it to our culture and the media that promotes beautiful women and celebrities, and then photo shops them to be even more unrealistically perfect. As women, we grow up with images of physical perfection that are impossible to attain. As a result, many women suffer with poor body images and spend millions of dollars to improve their appearance. Even so, perfect is not possible.
But when you are a true perfectionist, your need to be perfect goes beyond your physical appearance. You feel the need to be perfect at everything.
I was working with a coaching client recently on this issue. I asked her if she knew where her need to be perfect originated? She went on to describe a childhood where perfection was the expectation. She was spanked and punished if she received less than 100 on her tests and report cards. No excuses. She had to be perfect at everything.
Fast forward a few decades and that limiting belief still haunts her every day, and it sabotages her performance and career. I received feedback from her boss who stated that she needs to let go of the façade that she knows everything and admit she may not have all the answers. She needs to ask for help when she doesn’t have all the answers so that she can develop into her COO role and grow professionally. Her guarded communication and lack of transparency are symptoms of her unwillingness to show any vulnerability. A true perfectionist!
I believe we all have a little bit of this desire to be perfect. For some of us, it’s manageable. We recognize our silly fascination with it and can easily dismiss it. But for others, it’s a real problem that affects their ability to lead a fulfilling life and reach their full potential professionally.
Recognizing your perfectionism and how it may hold you back from reaching your potential is important.
Here’s how it can show up.
1.You need to demonstrate or appear to have all the answers all the time. Of course, this is not possible. We can easily grasp this intellectually, but we need to be aware of the belief that we can have all the answers all the time if we just work harder or longer. This leads to anxiety, depression, and burn-out.
2. You don’t ask for help. Asking for assistance is not a sign of weakness. It demonstrates your desire to learn more and grow personally and professionally. Asking for help, in fact, is a great way to improve your performance and will lead to potential new resources and ideas.
3. You resist feedback or dismiss negative or constructive feedback as not being valid. We can’t build a career in a vacuum. Without the feedback from our colleagues and managers, it’s challenging to improve our performance and get ahead. Request and listen to feedback even if it’s negative so that we can understand how we are being perceived in the workplace.
4. You don’t admit mistakes for fear others will think you’re incompetent (or not perfect). It can be challenging to admit making a mistake. In some cases, your co-workers or boss may be tough on you, but the sooner you acknowledge you’ve made a mistake, the better. You can’t control their thinking but you can control whether or not you continue to fester about it and beat yourself up. Move from the negative mindset to a more positive one of acceptance.
5. You don’t see learning opportunities or lessons from your mistakes. Accept your mistakes and take the time to think about the experience and what you can learn from it. Refrain from placing an immediate blame on others. Try to understand what led to that mistake, learn from it, and move on. You may want to share with your boss the lessons you learned from the experience.
6. You beat yourself up over your unrealized and unrealistic expectations. We all aspire to be the best we can be and it’s great to have ambitious goals. But it’s also important to make sure your goals are reasonable and achievable within realistic timeframes. We set a trap for ourselves by establishing impossible goals and then using our inability to reach them as an excuse to beat ourselves up.
7. You get defensive when anyone questions your opinions or ideas and take it personally. If we believe we are always right, defensiveness can pop up whenever anyone asks you a question. This prevents you from looking at the situation objectively and listening to the question in order to respond well.
If you recognize any of these tendencies, understand that they are common issues and that we all have them at times. Journal when your perfectionism is triggered to build your self-awareness. Make peace with your imperfections. Relax and recognize that no one is perfect and no one expects you to be.
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