I used to believe that perfectionism was equivalent to striving for perfection.
Throughout school and into my early career, this level of conscientiousness was rewarded. People knew they could count on me to get things done and exceed expectations.
I realized that what people value about me is my diligence and precision. The recognition charged me.
Outwardly, I appeared to be thriving. Inside, I struggled with how to deal with other people’s expectations (and my own). I struggled with making the perfect decision about everything, including how to start a project, what to write in an email, what to wear, and which item to buy.
Perfectionism is a mask for vulnerability. It prevents us from showing others what we fear they will see about us. In my case, I was afraid that others would see that I didn’t have it all together after all. (As if anyone does!)
It took me many years to realize that what I thought was making me successful was actually holding me back. The biggest motivator to finally make a change was when I stepped into a significant leadership role, I wanted to be a better role model for my team. Through conscious effort to understand my behavior and trying new approaches, over time I went from perfectionist to recovering perfectionist to a happy life in enough.
You may be stepping into a new leadership role or looking to reclaim your energy and time from the unattainable standards you set for yourself. Giving up on being a perfectionist doesn’t mean you’ve failed. This creates a new opportunity for you to commit to growth and learning as desired outcomes.
Here’s how to get started.
Try these strategies to reduce your need for perfection
1. Develop an aphorism
As a perfectionist, you may be a pro at self-talk, but it could be a negative voice in your head. Channel this skill into positive reinforcement for yourself by developing an aphorism you can rely on. Here’s one I used throughout my post-perfectionism growth: Remember that you are making the best decision you can with the information you currently have.
This phrase allowed me to honor that I did the best I could, instead of feeling like I wasn’t good enough. It also helped me stay present in the moment instead of worrying about the future.
2. Try something new
When you put yourself in a new situation, it requires you to be a beginner. At first, this environment may seem uncomfortable to you because it is unfamiliar. A beginner’s mindset allows you to focus more on learning rather than performing. This may lead to an error or failure, or it may simply lead to a result even better than you expected. Either way, it will lead to your growth.
3. Recognize your strengths
When you pursue perfection, you feel that there are no other results that deserve recognition. After all, there is more to do. To begin separating your worth from your accomplishments, take a moment to think about what you’re good at and what you love to do. You might even choose to write these things down and look back on them when you want to reminisce. Here’s the thing: you can appreciate what you do well and still work to develop other aspects of yourself. However, the goal is to show appreciation to yourself.
4. Celebrate progress
Often, perfectionists are so focused on achieving their goals that they forget to acknowledge when they’ve reached them and move on to the next project. I know this personally. In my book, One Bold Move a Day: Meaningful Actions Women Can Take to Realize Their Leadership and Career Potential, one of the foundational mindsets for growth is a forward thinking mindset. As I began to honor how far I had come and the victories I had along the way, I discovered that the journey was just as important as the results.
In the pursuit of perfection, your work is never enough—you are never enough. Instead, you can focus on what you’ve learned and how you’ve grown, which is an ongoing process. Although these strategies will require effort and time, being less of a perfectionist will lead to a more fulfilling life.
Shanna A. Hocking is principal of Hocking Leadership, which helps companies and nonprofits build stronger workplace cultures, develop leaders to reach their potential, and support women to thrive in the workplace. She is the author of One bold move a day.
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