Overcoming Perfectionism: The Deep Dive

This is part 6 in a blog series on why we are so afraid to be ourselves. And how that fear keeps us broke and invisible.

Previous installments can be read via the links below.

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To begin the journey toward imperfection, you have to let go of feeling bad about shit in the past. 

Yep, you’re allowed to learn and move on.

Because the most real of us accept our life experiences, and we accept they will make us feel certain ways – whether regretful and wrong or ambitious and turned on – while we’re processing whatever happened. And we certainly don’t shy away from those feelings or let them build up into resentment, anxiety or guilt. 

You cannot change what has already happened, so there’s no reason to feel like trash because of it.

Anxiety and guilt are a bi-product of not acknowledging what you’ve been through or done and, by extension, a true indicator you aren’t living in the present day.

If you’re stuck worrying you can’t handle whatever will come in the future (because of what happened in the past), you’re creating enough anxiety to paralyze you OR to make you feel so bad you will never try it again. 

I personally believe perfectionism is a cultural genocide. Think about it: If we are truly to learn to survive in a world that throws a lot of bullshit our way, we need to be flexible. Hell, it’s what evolution has depended on. 

Perfectionism strips us of our ability to adapt, creating a community of people who want to move fast without needing to revise. Failure is treated as a hard stop, instead of a place for us to re-route. 

Criticism (whether constructive or damaging) can be internalized any number of ways.

I’m not good enough or The job I did wasn’t good enough.

They will never ask me to work on a project again.

I’m going to lose clients because of this.

I’m a disappointment to myself, my family and friends, and – maybe – my clients.

This shame spiral begins because you believe you shouldn’t mess up – ever. And that mentality is absolutely a breeding ground for failure. Plus, you’re going to need a therapist to recover from the internal messages you’re sending.

The alternative is you quit trying and avoid challenging experiences. You won’t work to discover new approaches or figure out your own likes, which diminishes your chance to continuously learn and grow. And if you’re not learning and growing, you’ve killed your ability to use creativity and originality, which absolutely means you’re nowhere near perfect. 

It will make you insane.

Now imagine this type of behavior becomes ingrained (as it does in many) and think about how often the traits are passed on to the next generation without even realizing what we are doing to our kids. 

It’s not just crazy-making now. It’s also tragic.

And it shows up in several different aspects of our lives. 

Fear of making mistakes: Mistakes immediately equate to failure, making us feel like don’t deserve the respect of our peers. 

Unattainable personal standards: Yes, it’s good to have high standards for yourself, but if you don’t realize trying to reach them means you won’t always get there, the results can be disastrous. (Trust me, I know.) The standards then become more important than living, and self-evaluation becomes a way of life. 

Criticism to parents: Those who are perfectionists often place the blame for their high expectations on their parents, stating they expected too much and they were overly critical when a task wasn’t handled appropriately. And then they pass this on to their own children. <– Really.

Doubt: Perfectionists don’t believe they can achieve what they truly want, sometimes meaning they don’t even try. 

These examples are off the cuff and based on my own experience, so I’m sure I’m missing the mark on other manifestations of the problem. However, just in the four examples listed, you can see how this might impact someone’s life and – by extension – impact all of us.

Juxtapose this with how you treat others who reach for their dreams, just for a second, and you can immediately see how unfair it is to unleash this sort of shit on yourself. 

You’ve seen countless people go after what they want in life and they’re not always successful. But what do we tell them?

“Get back on the horse.”

“Try again.”

“Learn and move on.”

Except our words don’t match our own behaviors.

We don’t give this sort of compassion to ourselves. Since most people witness our behavior, our words don’t always seem genuine (because our actions don’t match up). So they might just stop listening and surrender…just like you.

Think I’ve harped on the dangers of perfectionism enough for you to see why this shit is soul vomit?

Okay, good.

The lesson, ladies and gentlemen, that you need to carry right out of this blog and back into your daily life, is that perfectionism is impossible and holds you hostage. Yes, you can absolutely get really, really good at something, but you can never be perfect. Ever. 

When you release that expectation, you can be sure that you’re minimizing the amount of frustration and disappoint you feel, while also setting yourself up for success (because you’ll keep trying). 

“You’re imperfect and you’re wired for struggle but you are worthy of love and belonging.” – Brenè Brown

Now that you see the flaws in this type of thinking, is it enough to get you over the hump and to change your life forever? 

Probably not.

Don’t believe me? Read anything by Brenè Brown. In the case of imperfection, you can read The Gifts of Imperfection. This lady is a genius when it comes to discussing how chasing perfectionism is one of our biggest flaws. 

Just like any good thing in life, you have to work toward overcoming this beast. 

If you don’t believe perfectionism is the mightiest kryptonite you face, acknowledgement might be enough for you to start recognizing this behavior in yourself. But if you’re anything like me, this one almost seemed insurmountable. 

But it’s only insurmountable if you’re playing into that bullshit mindset and aren’t doing the work to figure out why you believe something is impossible.

The good news, the straight up truth, is that you can overcome it. 

How?

Surrender. 

When you are facing the depths of failure or you have just made a mistake, it’s time for you to surrender to the feelings that crop up in that very moment.

Surrender, because the opposite of that is trying to control it and stuff down the hard stuff, which is exactly where perfectionism begins. 

Instead, know that excellence comes from learning in these moments and choosing to get back up and get moving again later. Failure won’t deter you from your dream life, it will only bring you another step closer. 

Stop being afraid of your own unworthiness or ability to complete a task or hit a mark, and start looking for different avenues to get to the place you already started working toward. 

There are simple ways to start working toward this, I promise.

1. Just Laugh 

Whenever you feel like you’ve done something wrong, I encourage you to laugh about it.

In fact, this is a strategy one of my first business coaches taught me and one I share with my own clients. To begin using this, I literally force myself to laugh out loud about whatever didn’t go the way I wanted. “Hahaha, I didn’t reach my target sales goal,” or “Hahaha, I didn’t take that dream trip to London because I’m afraid of flying.” 

When we take the severity out of the situation, and realize we’re still breathing despite it, we can see it’s not really as serious as we thought. 

Did the world stop turning because I missed my mark by five participants? Hell no. In fact, the other forty-five who signed up not only got the excellence I promised, but they got MORE attention and value because those other five people didn’t sign up.

I learned how to market the offering. I learned which pieces of my process didn’t seem to reap benefit. And I knew the next time I was ready to sell the same product, I’d surpass my mark because of what I learned.

Who’s laughing now?

2. Forgive 

We tend to use our inability to forgive someone (or a situation) as a way to stop growing. “I can’t keep doing this again because I’ve seen what will come of it” – a limiting belief that stems from our inability to get over and/or recover from whatever happened.

In those instances, it’s important to practice forgiveness, because it is possible, no matter what you’ve told yourself.

I know this concept is controversial in certain situations, including rape, abuse and victimization, and I understand – first-hand – how hard it can be to forgive someone for something you feel has changed you to the core. However, in cases like this, I like to remind people that forgiveness can be selfish (and not about the other person who doesn’t deserve your energy).

Forgiveness doesn’t mean you have to forget it, nor does it mean all of your feelings about it are resolved. Even bigger than that, forgiveness doesn’t absolve someone from the hurt they caused. It doesn’t mean accepting that you’ll continuously be hurt. It also doesn’t mean the relationship should or will go back to where it was before the offense.

Think about the fact that the act of forgiving actually releases us from the fear-based thoughts and emotions (like the example I listed above). That means it’s also the gateway and catalyst for moving forward, even though we don’t have control over every little thing. 

Forgiveness can be a difficult concept for people to come to terms with, but I encourage everyone to go back to the mindset work we’ve covered (and will continue covering) to see what is holding them back:

Do you believe forgiving someone means you are weak?

Is forgiveness about winning and losing?

What scares you about forgiving someone?

When you stop and do the hard work, the rest of this becomes easier. 

Forgiveness is critical to your success in overcoming perfectionism: for you, for others, and for your work to stick.

3. Build a Crew

Think about someone you admire, whether you personally know them or not, for their ability to overcome trials and life’s happenings and still move forward. This person could be your best friend or your favorite entrepreneurial personality. Regardless of that, how do you feel when you see they’ve overcome failures and mistakes?

I feel inspired by them.

Now imagine you’re surrounded with people like this. How do you think it would change your life?

Let’s be honest, your circle of friends might not be full of fierce risk-takers and dreamers, and that’s okay. You don’t need to dump people you love because they aren’t quite on the same page as you. But – if you want to keep growing – it’s time to expand your circle.

Find others who are walking the same journey as you, who do not fear making massive mistakes, who know that discomfort leads to growth. 

Their motivation will lead to your inspiration and, likely, massive shifts in your mentality and action. This not only helps you overcome your own perfectionism, but you’ll begin to be the example for others who notice how fearlessly you take on life. 

Here’s a self-forgiveness exercise:

Before you begin, please make sure you don’t go balls to the wall and pick the biggest hurdle in your life. If you want to make this exercise powerful, I’d recommend beginning with something small, like when your husband ate your leftovers for the fifteenth time. That way, you don’t trigger yourself or open old wounds without having a solid foundation to work through them.

Write down an event you’d like to forgive yourself for.

Then list five ways this event changed your life, where you can see bitterness or resentment.

 

Seriously. Go get a piece of paper and do this. I’ll wait.

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Got them?

Okay, then detail the experience as best as you can, recognizing what hurt you (and how it felt). Do it. Don’t be one of those people who reads all the stuff and doesn’t implement to help themselves. You can’t move past it and forgive without acknowledging the pain exists.

Next, read what you’ve written. 

How long have you held onto these feelings?

How has holding onto these feelings impacted your life and the lives of those surrounding you?

Now get real and share your findings with someone you trust. Or write about your reaction to the exercise.

By talking about what you’ve just found, you are telling it (and yourself) you’re no longer willing to be ashamed. You’re taking back ownership of what happened and giving yourself the choice to move forward. 

But first you have to grief the hurt it caused and forgive yourself for whatever mistake you made. (Maybe even laugh about the mistake too.) 

Last step: Choose to release the negative emotions you’ve just acknowledged. Send them packing with a deep sigh of gratitude. They did, after all, help you come to this moment and learn to move forward. 

Shred or burn the list you wrote. Finalize your decision to free yourself from the fear, failure and perfectionism.

If this crap ever resurfaces, remind yourself you’ve been freed. Insert famous Labyrinth scene when Jennifer Connelly says to David Bowie: “You have no power over me.”

(If you have no idea what I’m talking about, let me ask: Were you born after 1986?)

The healthiest, most real people I know are the ones who experience life’s challenges and recover from them from a place of love, forgiveness and gratitude.

They love and forgive themselves, and they are thankful they can do better the next time without repeating their mistakes. 

They don’t repress their feelings until they reach a boiling point, and they sure as shit don’t beat themselves up for attempting something new. They get back on their feet and keep moving forward, but first they deal with the hard emotions.

If life was all-or-nothing, we’d all be miserable.

There’s a lot of really good, really epic shit happening in the grey.

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Read part 7 here.

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