Perfectionism – Is it Stifling You ?

Perfectionism – Is It Stifling You?

PerfectionismDon’t get me wrong. I have no bone to pick with perfectionists; particularly not those who might find themselves operating on my heart, building my home or fixing my cars’ brakes. It goes without saying then that there are many situations in which is it extremely important to have things be perfect (or as close to it!).

But it also needs to be said that there are many situations in which it is not! The problem isn’t perfectionism per se, the problem is when we don’t discern between the two. When we fail to ask ourselves “Does this really matter?” our quest for perfection not only fails to serve us but can be a disservice to those around us.  

Perfectionism can stifle us in three key ways.

First, it keeps us from taking risks that might result in a greater accomplishment and contribution because we are afraid of messing up or looking, well… less than perfect.  It’s a good thing we learned to walk as toddlers before we became conditioned to think that we had to do things just perfectly. I mean, just think about how many adults who never learned to swim as children refuse to learn as adults. Why? Because they don’t want to go through the same learning curve that every child must go through in order to stay afloat. As Winston Churchill once said “The maxim ‘Nothing avails but perfection’, may be spelled P-A-R-A-L-Y-S-I-S.”

Not only does our desire to do things faultlessly keep us from taking on new challenges that involve an element of risk, but perfectionism can also limit our success in fulfilling our current responsibilities and goals effectively. For instance, if before I could write this article my house had to be perfect, it would never be finished. Likewise, my clients often are less productive than they could be because they spend hours (sometimes days) on unimportant details – such as finalizing the font they use in their power point presentation or finding the perfect colors for their charts - they could be spending that time on things that actually contribute to their organization’s goals.

It’s just so easy to fall into a trap of spending hours, days, weeks (and sometimes years!) focused on making something be “just perfect” that, in the big scheme of life, really isn’t that important.  That’s why it pays to continually ask yourself, “Is what I’m spending my time and energy on really important; does this really matter?”

Richard Carlson, who I co-authored a book with a couple years back also wrote a book called “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff”. It became an international bestseller because it spoke to that part in all of us that gets so caught up doing exactly the opposite.  The fact is that life’s richness comes from finding the courage to let go the small stuff to make room for the bigger, more meaningful, stuff (which is why I dedicated an entire chapter in my book to just that… “Finding the Courage to Let Go”.  Spending your days preoccupied with “the small stuff” doesn’t honor who you are. You are worthy of so much more.

Finally, our endless quest for perfectionism can stifle our enjoyment of life, keeping us from being fully present to, and grateful for, our many blessings in life.  When you are focused on everything that isn’t “just right” in your life – whether your body, your spouse, your home, your kids or your job – it prevents you from being truly present to all that is.  Life’s perfection actually exists in its imperfection.  The truth is that if life was perfect, it wouldn’t be!  You can’t always see the perfection of life in the moment through the narrow lens of where you stand today, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

Making it a practice to ask yourself if the stuff you are expending your precious time and energy on is worthy of you – frees you to face your challenges more powerfully, accomplish your goals more effectively and enjoy each day more fully. On that note, I invite you to reflect on these 5 questions:

1. What have you been spending a lot of time on which, in the bigger scheme of things, doesn’t really matter?

2. What would you be doing if you were able to let go having to do it “just right” or have it turn out perfectly?

3. What difference would it make if you could accept yourself just as you are (imperfections and all), embracing everything that makes you so unique?

4. What difference would it make to your relationships if you could accept others just as they are (imperfections and all), embracing everything that makes them so unique?

5. How might you enjoy your life more if you could accept your current life circumstances as they are right now despite those aspects which aren’t as you’d like them to be?

I challenge you right now to embrace life’s imperfection more fully, to let go of your constant striving to perfect the ‘small stuff” and to shift your focus to the ‘bigger stuff’ that really does matter.  Doing so will enable you to see countless opportunities to excel that you’ve been missing,  bring you a deeper sense of gratitude and, most importantly, allow you to fulfill your unique potential… despite your imperfections.

Now….what could be more perfect!?  

Written originally for by Margie Warrell.