March 09, 2017

The Perfectionist and the Paradox of Perfectionism

Photo: Alex Read | Unsplash

 The Perfectionist is ruled by living a life of perfectionism. To accept nothing less than perfect but only "perfect" itself. Is it a dangerous game to play? In this post, we explore some of its most common perils, where it comes from and some tips to "make the mindset shift."

Being a perfectionist is hard work. It requires effort, demands diligence, and attention to detail. Moreover, The Perfectionist does not allow for anything less than "perfect." Can you relate? Are you a perfectionist? Someone who [must] have things be a certain way. Someone who won’t accept anything less than what is expected. Perhaps even someone who doesn’t like to delegate. Are you? Are you a perfectionist? Be honest. No one is here to judge.

To an extent, I’m one myself. I have things that I must have a certain way. I have things that I won’t accept if it’s not "up to standard." And, I cringe, at times, at delegating tasks to others. What can I say—I like to keep things organized. I hold high standards for myself. And, I really don’t like to be late. In my opinion, there’s nothing wrong with being a perfectionist. In many ways, I think it can be a good thing to have high standards for yourself. It can help drive your motivation and force you to think about how things can be better. But, it can also be self-defeating. Yes, The Perfectionist faces many perplexing paradoxes.

The Perfectionist

Living a life ruled by perfectionism can be a dangerous game to play. It can certainly have its advantages but, it's also important to be aware of its potential disadvantages too. What, then, does 'Perfectionism' really mean? According to psychological reasoning, by definition:
“Perfectionism is to hold an unrealistic ideal and demand that one’s behavior or appearance conform to it.”
This means, a perfectionist—devoted to perfectionist principles, should be aware of a few important things.

The Perils of Perfectionism

  • Unrealistic ideals.
    Holding unrealistic ideals mixed with expectations that everyone will uphold to those—is a recipe for failure. The Perfectionist has a tendency to demand that other people live up to their own unrealistic expectations. As a result, they become harridans, control freaks, rigid, and relentlessly demanding. Others view them as either reviled or irritable.
  • Bring you down.
    Crippling perfectionism has the potential to drag you down. At the end of any project or pursuit, it’s rare that a wayward perfectionist will be commended for a job well done. He or she may obsess so much over specific details that they fail to finish on time. To add, they're no stranger to the feelings of failure, disappointment, and frustration. Too much, however, and it can lead to a severe case of depression.
  • Don't do well with criticism.
    Hard-line perfectionists have a tendency to take all criticism to heart. Although it may not be intended, The Perfectionist internalizes criticism as confirmation that they are so far from their ideal that they are worthless. While it takes strength to maintain a perfectionist lifestyle, it can also be self-defeating. It can cause serious damage one’s self-esteem and social support networks.
  • Procrastination.
    They prolong everything around him or her until it's “Perfect.” Procrastination stops them from finishing (or beginning) a project. Procrastination keeps The Perfectionist "in progress." They say things like; “I’ll go to the gym to exercise once I’ve found the right pair of gym shoes.” Or, “I'll start on that assignment when I've got the right tools." The problem is The Perfectionist never gets started because if the job can’t be done “right,” why do it at all? And, to add to this, they simply don't know how to stop procrastinating.

Avoid the Trap

YouTube channel The School of Life, posted a short video called the "The Perfectionist Trap." It aims to briefly explain how we might develop perfectionism and the problems we may encounter with it. It's a stark reminder of the reality we face and a way to enlighten us to reframe how we think of success and achievement.

The Traits of Gods

Ancient Greek and Roman Philosophers personified perfection in the form of gods and goddesses. For example, Juno (mythology)–or Hera, in Greek tradition, was the Queen of the Gods and master of all she surveyed. Venus (mythology), or in Greek–Aphrodite, was the manifestation of physical perfection. Diana (mythology), or Artemis (Greek), was intellectual and reasoned. Mars (mythology), or Ares (Greek), referred to as the 'Warrior God'–ever vigilant and ready for battle. These attributes were once recognized as being part of nearly everyone’s makeup to varying degrees. The problem is this why The Perfectionist, ever obsessed with perfection, tries fruitlessly to be the sum of all such traits. Not just bearing varying degrees of each.

See alsoImperfectly Perfect: Making Peace with Your Imperfections.

Make the Shift

Strive to be better, not perfect.
As disempowering perfectionism can be, personally, I’m an advocate for embracing high standards. To an extent, I think we should all hold ourselves to them. Or at least give it a try. That's not to say we should all try to live up to God-like standards. Instead, it's more about living up to higher standards that enable us to grow and become better versions of ourselves.

While holding high standards might not be for everyone, if you're the competitive type, it can certainly make the difference between winning and losing. It’s how top athletes push themselves, how artists become popular, and how the rich get richer. The main point here is, not to base your 'self-worth' on the idealism of perfection. If you do, it’s almost a guaranteed way to create disappointment, anxiety and live a life filled with failure and frustration. “What should I do?” you ask? Make the shift. We'll talk more about that in the next edition. For now though, here are two things you can work on right away.
  1. Don’t focus on being/accepting/allowing average.
  2. Do focus on allowing yourself to accept 'less-than-perfect.'
Strive to be better, not perfect. Just start with something small. Go for "good," then "better," then "best" and go from there. See you in the next one.