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I still remember the exact place I sat when I was first called the P Word.
I was at work and I was looking at a BEAUTIFUL report I’d created. I was basking in its beauty.
And then I tweaked a font and made it even more beautiful.
I did this in front of my friend and coworker.
And you know what she did? She called me the P word.
It was my first time ever being called the P word.
I told her I wasn’t a Perfectionist. I just liked things done well.
And she laughed at me. Seriously. She laughed and couldn’t stop.
I was in shock. I had no idea I was a perfectionist until she told me. What?!!!
This story happened about a decade ago. Since then, I’ve learned my sweet friend was absolutely right.
I was suffering from pefectionism.
Free Printable – Affirmations for Perfectionists
Below is a free printable with affirmations to help you conquer perfectionism. If you need the password, click here.
What’s the Difference Between Wanting Something Done Right and Perfectionism?
“Striving for excellence motivates you; striving for perfection is demoralizing.”– Harriet Braiker
Perfectionism is that pit in your stomach when you worry that perhaps your best work isn’t perfect. It’s not quite right.
You worry about it. You agonize over it. You check it again and again and agin.
Perfectionists don’t usually feel good about an accomplishment. What ever they do, it’s never enough.
It’s often because perfectionists are chasing external validation to make us feel like we’re good enough.
You don’t feel that you’re as good as others so you feel that you have prove yourself. Be the best, be perfect.
So you prove it – But of course, perfectionism is impossible, so you try harder….
That’s the thing about perfectionism. It’s a cycle that never ends.
The Emotion Behind Perfectionism
When I think of perfectionism, one word defines it more than any other word.
That word is FEAR.
Perfectionism is a type of fear. Its the fear that whatever you’ve done is not good enough.
It’s fear of failure. Fear of not being good enough.
And the funny thing about fear is that it likes to mask itself. It’s not a good feeling so instead of noticing the fear, you notice that instead you just want to re-review something for the 5th time in case you made a mistake.
It’s a sneaky, sneaky little thing.
“I think perfectionism is just fear in fancy shoes and a mink coat, pretending to be elegant when actually it’s just terrified. Because underneath that shiny veneer, perfectionism is nothing more than a deep existential angst the says, again and again, ‘I am not good enough and I will never be good enough.”– Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
It’s On the Rise
In a large study by Curran and Hill, it was found that perfectionism rose by 33% since 1989.
I can totally relate.
When I think of my family in the 1980’s, life was so different. I love looking at old shows and seeing how awful the houses looked. The paneling on the walls. The crazy couches. Things are so different now.
Let me tell you, I didn’t even know the word “perfectionism” in the 1980’s.
Not all Perfectionism is Bad
If you look at many of the articles on perfectionism, they’ll tell you perfectionism is all bad.
However, as a lifetime perfectioinst, I find that that there’s also an upside.
Of course there is! As humans, we don’t keep doing things over and over again if there isn’t some benefit.
The Journal of Counseling Psychology published research where they showed that some types of perfections are actually healthy.
The type that’s healthy is a type of perfectionism they call Adaptive or Healthy perfectionism. This type of perfectionism is aimed at doing things you want to do well.
They call it Adaptive perfectionism because you’re able to adapt. If things don’t go well, you can pivot and adjust. You can adapt.
This type of perfectionism isn’t rooted in a lot of fear that we talked about earlier. It’s more of a type of perfectionism where you want to do a good job so you work really really hard, but you don’t have the fear.
Perfectionism Has its Perks
For me, whether I’m being a perfectionist out of fear or out of healthy adaptive perfectionism, there’s a benefit that comes out of it.
1. Really good work products come out perfectionism.
Perfectionists can create really great quality work.
For example, I pride myself on the quality of these podcasts, Every episode is the best work that I can possibly do. Every handout I make for you is my best work. You are getting the best of me.
2. perfectionists are rewarded in our culture.
When you do things very well, you are complimented and rewarded. People may notice and mention it. It feels really good. Often, in our culture, people who do good work are rewarded.
Problem with Perfectionism
There are drawbacks to perfectionism that may not be so obvious.
You don’t realize you’re doing it.
I think that not realizing you’re a perfectionist is the most difficult part of it. Even though I know I have perfectionism in me, often I still don’t realize that I’m doing it.
For example, before I wrote this blog post, I cleaned a bathroom. It took me almost an hour to clean just one little bathroom.
I dusted each 2” strip of wooden blind. I scrubbed the shower. I scrubbed the molding.
And the worst part? When I was done it didn’t even look clean to me. I saw stains that won’t come out, the imperfect paint. Instead of feeling proud, I wondered what else I could do to make it look better.
In my opinion, this is the biggest problem with perfectionism. Even when you know you’re doing it, you either don’t notice or you can’t seem to stop.
It’s a Cycle.
With perfectionist, you’re doing a faultless performance again and again. There’s never a stopping point. There’s never a point where you feel as if you did a great job and now you’re done.
You Get Less Done.
Perfectionists work really hard to do a good job so it typically takes more time. This can be due to procrastination (you’re scared of doing it wrong, so you don’t do anything) or because it takes you a long time because you’re doing it so perfectly.
I’m the second kind. I don’t usually procrastinate, but I work carefully.
For example, I can only produce a podcast episode every other week because I work really hard on each and every episode. You’ll never find an episode that’s half-done or poorly researched. You’ll get the best of me.
So to take the stress off, instead, I publish every other week. I can still use the advantages of my perfectionism by producing a really high-quality show, without it negatively impacting my life.
4. You’re overworked.
This is a biggie. Perfectionists are usually WAY overworked.
As a Mom, you may not want to delegate so you can do it “right.” Uh huh. I’m with you on that one.
You spend an hour cleaning a silly bathroom when others would have gotten 3 bathrooms cleaned in that time.
As a perfectionist, it’s also hard for you to relax and do things for leisure or for yourself. Because there are more important things you can be doing! Like cleaning a bathroom for an hour.
I feel that often we’re too quick to fix things.
That’s probably a perfectionistic trait. 🙂
Your homework is to just notice. Don’t try to change anything. Don’t try to fix the problem. You’ve probably been a Perfectionist most of your life. Instead of trying to fix anything, just pay attention and notice.
Self-awareness is the first step to anything. If you don’t realize you have a problem, you can’t fix or change anything.
So just notice.
And in the next blog post (and also episode 25 of the podcast), we’ll talk about how to ease into letting go of some of perfectionism that isn’t serving us.