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Is Your Perfectionism Mask Slipping?

Have you spent years honing your public-facing mask of perfectionism to … well, perfection? The more I look into this topic, the more I think perfectionism is honed over a lifetime of wanting to please people (our parents, friends, teachers, etc.), leading us to perform (get good grades, earn awards, become a leader), leading us to perfectionism. All this hard work just so we can achieve external accolades.

Instead of looking inwardly, perfectionists typically look outside ourselves for appraisal and approval. As children, we begin to equate achievement with love. The belief that “I need to do more, I need to do better” begins to grow, until it spirals into “I need to be perfect.”

Procrastination is rampant among perfectionists because “if I can’t do it right the first time, then I don’t want to try it” or “if it’s not perfect, it’s not worth doing” or “it’s too hard to do it perfectly, so I don’t want to do it” or “if he sees I’m not perfect, he won’t want me.” See the pattern here? We are so conditioned to being pleasers, performers, and perfectionists in our society that it is draining our energy to keep up our “perfect” masks! We are so focused on making others happy and not ourselves that we actually end up procrastinating because we just can’t make ourselves do one more thing that will inevitably make us fail … again.

I SAY STOP THE MADNESS!

I’ve made a commitment to read two books a month on my business (peak performance coaching for leaders) and earlier this year I read Brene’ Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection. Who knew NOT being perfect could be a gift?!

Here are a couple of juicy tips from Brene’ with some of my thoughts:

“Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame. It’s a shield. Perfectionism is a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from taking flight.”

  • How true is this?! I look at some of the decisions I’ve made in my career. The decisions I made to be bold and step out there and do something I didn’t think I could do were actually the decisions that enabled me to fly. However, I know there were so many other decisions I didn’t follow through on that could have yielded just as fantastic a result, but I let that gremlin voice in my head tell me I wasn’t good enough, and I chose to believe it. I chose to let the twenty-ton shield “protect me” when it really just held me down.

“Perfectionism is not self-improvement. Perfectionism is, at its core, about trying to earn approval and acceptance. … Healthy striving is self-focused – How can I improve? Perfectionism is other-focused – What will they think?

  • Leonard Cohen, in his iconic song “Anthem,” sings: There is a crack in everything – that’s how the light gets in. Let the crack show who you really are. Stop looking to others to validate who you are and what you should be. Look inside and celebrate your cracks!

Here are some tips to help you let go of perfectionism:

  • Become aware of your negative self-talk. We get what we think about. Are you thinking negative thoughts about yourself and your ability to accomplish your goals? Your thoughts are a self-fulfilling prophecy. So, what prophecy would you like to see come true?
  • Nurture self-compassion. Christopher Germer said, “A moment of self-compassion can change your entire day. A string of such moments can change the course of your life.”
  • Use the SMART goal method. And remember, you have the power to change your goals!
  • Talk to a coach. A professional coach can help identify where you are employing your “twenty-ton shield” and help you reach your desired life.

My company name is APEX Leadership Coaching and the APEX stands for the process I use in coaching. A = Attitude (who are you as a leader? Your strengths, weaknesses, values, motivators, vision). P = Performance (what do you do as a leader? Do you have the right strategies, goals, priorities to attain your vision?). EX = EXcellence (how do you do what you do as a leader? Employing business mastery and emotional intelligence in growing yourself and those around you into strong leaders). Because so many of my clients also struggle with perfectionism, I realized that EXcellence also represents the alternative to perfectionism. I believe that EXcellence is perfectionism with grace – the grace to be good enough, the grace to be able to fail forward, the grace to be satisfied.

You don’t have to curl up in a ball and admit defeat in order to let go of your perfectionism. Letting go of perfectionism is about stretching a little further than you did with your last achievement. It’s about having fun in the journey and not just the end result. So, today, give yourself permission to focus on good enough. Just today. Or if that’s even too much, just this hour. And practice it. Practice does not make perfect – practice makes permanent.

Share with us how you’re practicing today!