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Caught in the Perfection Trap?

By Claudette Rowley

Are you a perfectionist? Here's permission to stop pursuing perfection. Perfectionism is impossible. We're all imperfect.

Perfectionism leaves a trail of wreckage on our psyches, careers, families and entire self-perceptions. Are you thinking, "Why should I change this? What's wrong with striving for perfection? Isn't it the best course of action?"

Here's the perfectionism problem: perfectionism pushes us to chase the unattainable. Then we chastise ourselves for never achieving our visions of perfection - sparking a cycle of self- sabotage and procrastination. Along the way, we miss potential opportunities. It's hard to see clearly when we're focused on being perfect.

Perfectionism muffles our ability to hear our true dreams and desires. Listening to our inner selves is critical to discovering life purpose, determining career moves and discerning feelings about the relationships in our lives.

Wondering if you're seeking perfection? These signals may say you are. You:

  • Find yourself procrastinating.
  • Don't follow through on commitments.
  • Feel stuck (feeling stuck covers a lot of territory, but can signal that perfectionism is an obstacle).
  • Are unable to come up with a "good" idea.
  • Are challenged to take action.
  • Beat yourself up for a "transgression," based on someone else's comment or something only you have noticed.
  • Have difficulty accepting compliments or giving yourself credit for your accomplishments.
  • Make decisions based on fear or guilt.

Oh sure, there are moments that feel perfect, often known as peak experiences. At these times, we're at our best, "in the zone," experiencing peace or amazement as our labors bear fruit. Perfectionism and a perfect moment are different. Peak moments and experiences are not born of fear. They result from passion, joy, perseverance and a strong belief in yourself. Perfectionism, meanwhile, roots itself in the basic belief that we're never good enough.

Perfectionism holds us back with a fear that we are inadequate, not enough and somehow so flawed that we must reach for more. Fear cracks its whip and we call back, "How high should I jump? Just tell me what to do and I'll do it."

Don't confuse perfectionism with excellence. Pursuing excellence includes an understanding that taking actions may also mean losing, failing and generally messing up. People who excel (versus those who strive for perfection) accept that they will make mistakes - and they learn from them. They'll examine a mistake objectively and ask themselves, "What could I do differently or better next time?"

Perfectionism can be subtle. It's often ironic - the quest for perfection makes us less perfect. We hold back and get less of what we want. True - sometimes we make fewer mistakes, but these fewer mistakes come at a great cost. Isn't holding ourselves back from doing and saying what we want the biggest mistake of all?

So starting today, let's vow to give up the pursuit of perfection. We're imperfect - always have been and always will be. Life is messy - always has been and always will be. So... Go have fun, do what you want, be yourself. Really. What have you got to lose?

A savvy resource: "Taming Your Gremlin" by Richard Carson. This book is a classic and incredibly useful. The "gremlin" is the inner critic voice in your mind that fuels perfectionism. This book gives you tools and strategies for "taming" your negative self-talk.

© Copyright © 2006 Claudette Rowley
Claudette Rowley, coach and author, helps professionals identify and pursue their true purpose and calling in life. Learn more at Claudette
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