3 Signs You're a Perfectionist and What to Do About It
“Perfectionism is just fear in really good shoes.” Elizabeth Gilbert
One of my former roommates (let’s call him Don) used to chew his left thumbnail all the way down to its nail bed. I took it as a sign of a nervous habit, his way of dealing (or perhaps not dealing well) with stress. We were 20-somethings in a high-pressured job. As his colleague, I had watched him pick up a chair and throw it across the room in frustration.
An artist, he cared about putting out “good product” but the intense deadline forced him to churn out something he felt to be inferior. To the rest of us, his less than perfect product were still a hundred percent better than what we can pull off on a good day. Don, in every way, was a perfectionist.
Perfectionism has been the focus of my work. One of the reasons why I write extensively on the topic is, and I will paraphrase Kathy Griffin, I don’t want to use my talent to contribute to a culture of unattainable perfectionism and intolerance.
Judging from the responses I received from this Huffington Post blog, it would appear that many of us see ourselves as perfectionists. But more importantly, we are starting to see that being a perfectionist is a two-edge sword. It can fuel our greatness, but at the same time, cripple us with high-priced side effects such as self-doubt, dissatisfaction and physical maladies, in which I will highlight below.
The Fatal Flaw of a Perfectionist
Perfectionists lack the ability to offer themselves the same measure of compassion they lend to others. And that is a fatal flaw. As this new study indicates, perfectionism is linked to suicide. Gordon Flett, a researcher known for his study of perfectionism, uncovered data that showed “consistent links between perfectionism and hopelessness and the need for a person-centered approach that recognizes the heightened risk for perfectionists.”
Watch out for these Signs!
Perfectionism is also linked to what experts called body-focused repetitive behaviors (BFRB) in the form of nail biting (as in the above case with Don), hair pulling and skin pulling. In one extreme case that was reported in the Atlantic, one woman pulled out her hair, strand by strand, until she was bald.
Maybe you copped to being a perfectionist but don’t see yourself engaging in these behaviors nor would you consider something as final as suicide. But if you recognized a need for better managing your expectations, here are a few things to consider and that you can immediately put into practice.
Done Not Perfect.
As you may have picked up from Seth Godin, real artists ship. Fight your perfectionistic instinct to re-arrange one more comma in a sentence, add one more dab of paint on the canvas or cross-check one more research before getting your work in front of the boss. Just get it done. Make deadlines work in your favor. Believe me, this is the only way I could get any of my blogs written and published.
Put a Timer on it.
If you are still saying, “I can’t, I just can’t!” Here’s a simple trick that has helped me. Prior to starting a project, I would tell myself that I would dedicate only a set number of hours to doing that particular task or project. I used a timer. When that hour is up, I walk away.
Practice Makes Perfect.
By now you’ve heard about the “10,000-hour rule,” the amount of time it takes for someone to become a master. You probably also read a number of later works that tried to poke holes into the concept that was popularized by Malcolm Gladwell.
I think we can make practical applications of both. Granted, if you dream of becoming the next star of The Voice, and you are as tone deaf as I am, you may put in the time performing and singing 10,000 hours, but you might still end up not being the next Adele, Mariah or Christina. Experts like to distill success into a simple formula but who knows what the real secret to mastering anything is!
While I don’t think blindly clocking in is the answer to mastery, I don’t discount it. You must put in the time, then you must give your passion your full concentration and focus, and be diligent with making course corrections.
When we seek out perfection, we missed the point. The point is that if today, we are a better version of ourselves of yesterday; we are well ahead of our personal evolution.
If you enjoyed this post, you can have it delivered directly to your inbox by subscribing here.