In many ways, I’m not your classic perfectionist (you’ll be able to tell this from the errors I make on my blogs).
But I am putting the case forward today that perhaps many of us suffer from perfectionism in a whole variety of guises.
Which of these sounds like you? OK, they’re caricatures, but do play along.
(You might have a combo to be fair – I do).
“The Rule of Straight”
- Overheard: If a job’s worth doing it’s worth doing properly
- Action: Writes on a ruler, paints with masking tape, re-reads and checks work
- At its best: Produces high standard of work
- At its worst: Won’t delegate, feels uneasy at the sight of a mistake in their work
- Christmas: Perfect gifts, beautifully wrapped, cards with printed out labels
- Parenting: I must get it all right. Am I doing a brilliant job? Reads lots of books on how to do it properly.
- Leadership: I must demonstrate excellence
- Famous examples: Serena Williams, Monica from Friends, The Queen, my Dad
- Antidote quote: “I just give myself permission to suck. I find it hugely liberating” (John Green)
“Sky High Expectations”
- Overheard: I would never do that, I can’t believe they thought that was acceptable
- Action: Makes lists and plans for self and others. Sets goals and expectations
- At its best: Motivates high performance and achievements
- At its worst: Criticises and judges others and has impossibly high standards
- Christmas: Expects the kind of attention to detail that they would give, and the same kind of thoughtful acts that they demonstrate
- Parenting: Think tiger mum. Think must do better.
- Leadership: I will push you to higher standards of excellence
- Famous examples: Steve Jobs, Gordon Ramsey, Margaret Thatcher
- Antidote quote: “When you release expectations, you are free to enjoy things for what they are instead of what you think they should be.” (Mandy Hale)
“You’re Measuring Me”
- Overheard: It was nothing, really, I mean, I had a lot of help
- Action: Self-deprecating humour, watching what others are doing, analysing their thoughts, words, behaviours, over thinking
- At its best: Humble and considerate
- At its worst: Suffers from low self-esteem and won’t take the credit
- Christmas: Considers what everyone else wants, and tries to emulate what they think is expected (I’ll make Granny’s Christmas ten layer cake even though baking is not my thing)
- Parenting: Worries that they aren’t doing as well as they should be, and obsesses over how others are doing or what they expect of them
- Leadership: Over consults, uses 360 feedback and the like as the ultimate benchmark
- Famous example: Robin Williams, Princess Diana, Jesy Nelson
- Antidote quote: “You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realised how seldom they do” (Eleanor Roosevelt)
- Overheard: I’m not a perfectionist.
- Action: Doesn’t get involved in things where the outcomes will be compared, chooses the path of least resistance. Average is OK.
- At its best: Calm, laid back, has priorities in the right place
- At its worst: Procrastinates, opts out, secretly wants to succeed but doesn’t act on it, reluctant to pursue talents and abilities in case it doesn’t work out
- Christmas: Forgets to buy presents, or buys at the last minute, or gets everyone a voucher
- Parenting: Laissez-faire, encourages children to enjoy the taking part over pushing them to challenge themselves, avoids failure
- Leadership: Highly delegatory, collaborative, possibly avoids accountability
- Famous examples: Charlie Sheen, Lindsay Lohan
- Antidote quote: “Procrastination is not laziness…it is fear. Call it by its right name and forgive yourself” (Julia Cameron)
Most of us will spot some tendencies somewhere on this list (really well done if you don’t!).
Now that we know this is an issue, what on earth can we do about it?
I know you’re busy and you’ve probably read enough for today.
So I’m going to tell you more next week.
But for now, I’ll just tell you what I learned about concepts of perfection in two different cultures.
The Greek ideal (the one I would argue we tend to lean towards) is based on the word amemptos. This word basically means to be blameless. Without fault, without deficiency, without flaw. In this ideal, we constantly fall short – never measuring up to a ‘flag held high, beckoning us beyond the limits of our present tiredness.’ (Ronald Rolheiser). Relate? I hold myself to standards I will never reach. I can, at times, look to be accepted by grasping for an unreachable benchmark that just leaves me feelings lacking. No thank you.
There is also a Hebrew way of looking at the idea of perfection. This is rooted in the word teleios. Think telescope. Think of the idea of full-stretch, maturity, growth. This concept of perfection leans more into growth, perfection through growth, integrity, virtue. The Hebrews saw perfection not by being perfect, but by leaning into perfection. This is something I can live with. A journey and a choice rather than a ruler and tick list.
Next week, we will look at some more strategies for perfectionism, but for this week, keep in mind that the amemptos way will always leave you falling short, whereas the teleios route gives you both a focus and reason.
Why not spend a bit of time this week spotting the signs of perfectionist, anti-failure, self- limiting, self-deprecating behaviour, and whether you tend to be amemptos or teleois in your approach.
Next week we will look at what to do about it 😉
The good news is we can get better at being a perfectionist.
Is this an oxymoron?
P.S. Don’t overdo the Christmas preparations – no one likes a festive stress-head. You can find my tips on this here.