Perfectionism is a heavy yoke to bear – anyone who’s played this game knows how excruciating it can be.
Only scared people are perfectionists – they fear being judged, yet they viciously pre-judge themselves, creating their own suffering.
If you experience perfectionism, consider the trade-offs for a moment.
Perfectionism can be…
- Overly slow – in practice, many people prefer to receive work that’s ‘done’ over ‘perfect’
- Picky – doesn’t always play well with others
- Unpopular – see above
- Unpredictable – in the sense of being secretive and not knowing when or if work will be finished
- Fragile – it may not accommodate feedback, adjustment or collaboration
- Illusory – perfectionists are human and make mistakes – other people know this
- Imperfect – since the quality of work is usually subjective
- Adding little value over competence
In most of life, we humans need a little breathing space to be fallible. We usually do work that’s up to scratch and on time, but only just. True? It takes a lot of commitment to go above and beyond, giving more service than is asked of us. We love routine – doing things we’re already competent at, or have aptitude for. We shun discomfort and trying new things.
So it often comes naturally to us to use the 80/20 rule. Just do B- work. Not for a perfectionist, naturally, but there is an advantage in doing B- work. It gets the job done and you learn from it. Perfectionists would do well to time-limit tasks and commit to producing a quick result in half the scheduled time, then use the second half of the time to add polish. Then just stop.
The Cost of Perfectionism
If we need to be perfect, we procrastinate and never finish anything. This avoids our work getting out there, where we imagine it will be harshly judged or criticised. We don’t want people to point out the errors – it’s way too painful.
- Where’s the productivity and success in that?
- How are we going to deliver results?
- How can we work well with other people?
When an artist paints a painting, it’s never finished. They just get to a point and stop.
The acceptance we seek comes through acknowledging that WE OURSELVES are perfect already and we can redefine perfection however we wish. Human DOING is not what will achieve the perfect score. It will not make us more popular or successful. It will not cultivate the warmth, acceptance, connection and love we seek.
If you can relate to perfectionism, how do you WANT to feel, if all your work turns out perfect?
You can have that feeling now, by changing your beliefs.
Personally, I follow the Buddhist principles that each one of us contains Buddha nature, which means we have innate perfection. Only our superficial poor behaviour can cloud that perfection for a moment. The Buddha nature that’s inside us can ALWAYS be uncovered, like a diamond, to shine out again.
If you adopt the idea that you and your life are perfect – just because they ARE as they ARE – you will still have both positive and negative experiences and emotions. Life contains contrast, but I believe that what happens in life happens FOR you, not TO you.
If you think something catastrophic has happened in your life or to your loved ones –
- What can you learn?
- Has it made you stronger?
- Developed skills in you?
- Unexpected connections?
- Has it increased your compassion for others?
- Have you found ways to support others through similar difficulties?
- Have you seen another aspect of life or people that you now cherish?
Random acts of…
Pushing away the aspects of reality that we don’t like gives them power over us, not the other way around.
Accepting what IS in life doesn’t change life, but it dramatically reduces our suffering. When we resist what we perceive as imperfect, we’re creating our own hell. Meeting our shortcomings with aggression just doesn’t work.
So next time you consider doing a random act of perfectionism – you might cut yourself some slack and just let it go.
If you want to check your personality trait stress rating, try the quiz below. Warning – it might motivate.