Recovering Perfectionist

It has to be right.

Quality is important.

I just need a little more time to get the details right.

It's almost there, but it's still not right.

Have you said any of these things? All of them? If so, you, my friend may be a perfectionist. Do you give your staff an assignment, only to take it back and completely redo it? Do you feel like you are the only one who seems to care about quality? Are there just not enough hours in the day, and you seem not to be getting anywhere? Yes, my dear, you are a perfectionist!

Don't believe me? Let's see. You may be a perfectionist if:

  • You start off helping your child with their homework/project, only to have taken it over completely, and tell them to just "put your name" on the paper, (and do it neatly!).
  • Although you usually fix dinner, when your spouse offers to help, you tell them which pot, what seasonings, how much and in which order to fix it (hence never leaving the kitchen, so you might as well have fixed it yourself).
  • When your boss asks you for a "brief" write up, you spend hours researching, writing, and developing the content and AFTER turning it in, you may or may not have sent 3-4 revisions "as a back up".
  • You spend hours agonizing over fonts, or placement, or color scheme OR your rewrites close in on double digits.
  • You have "back up" gifts in case you change your mind about the one you already have to give to a loved one.
  • You are shocked when someone likes something you have done, that you thought you needed MUCH more time on, and already can see 10 things wrong with, but were forced to hand it over by being threatened within an inch of your life (or career).
  • You turn things in at the last minute, when you actually had the basics done much earlier on.

Any of this ring a bell? Come on...just admit it. Say it with me "I am a perfectionist". See? It wasn't that hard right? Wait, Can I say that over? How about "I am a perfectionist"...or "I am a perfectionist"? Ok. You may have guessed but I am a recovering perfectionist. I am not alone however. You fraidy cats may not own up to it, but I know you are out there, and you are suffering! A study conducted by the University of Montreal scoring participants as organizational perfectionists, indicated a tendency to over plan, overwork themselves and get frustrated quickly without high levels of activity. People who are either self-proclaimed or perceived by their peers to be perfectionists suffer from the image of having "it all together". It is emotionally draining to have to seem to be in control or successful all of the time.

This is especially true for women. Ask a woman to take on a new or seemingly increased role in the workplace. Her likely response is "but what if [insert catastrophe here]?" Ask a man, and you may get "it's about time you asked me", or some other version of "let's go!" A cousin of mine who runs a multimillion dollar consulting firm once told me that in twenty years, nearly every man he'd hired had asked him for a raise within 6 months of starting, and maybe 4 women had at all. Four. FOUR? If that's not enough, he noted that when reviewing resumes he generally takes a man at half his word in terms of accomplishments, while doubling whatever a woman has listed. It has usually been proven that women were far more accomplished than what they'd described. The men, however would claim they'd invented the internet if they'd happened to successfully have turned on a computer. Now this is an admitted generalization and of course they are confident women, and men who could use an ego shot, but anecdotally and empirically women are particularly hard on themselves.

We have to stop being so hard on ourselves. I say fight fire with fire! Learn to use your perfectionist ways to fight your perfectionist ways! You like making lists, right? You probably even add things to your list AFTER you've completed it, if you do something that wasn't originally on the list. I'm shaking my head over here, because I've been there, done that, and may have bought a t-shirt or three in multiple colors! So list maker, make a list of the activities or situations you find the least stressful and are least likely to succumb to your perfectionistic ways. I know that may be difficult, but what do you do that you draw the most pleasure from? Spend some time thinking about these activities, or plan to do more of them. On second thought, just thinking about how you felt the last time you went on a nature walk, may actually be better than trying to get you to plan (without stressing or overdoing it) a nature walk.

As you go through your list allow yourself to feel for a moment. Stop thinking so much. Just feel how happy, calm and refreshed these pleasurable activities make you feel. Positive emotions evoke calm and teach your body to recognize and crave more of the same. If by chance you do start thinking about things you just HAVE to get done, and what MUST be done correctly, and how unprepared you feel for the task, remember we actually learn from mistakes. You like to have information right? Evidence? Research? Well, knowing what not to do is nearly as important as knowing what to do, and certainly makes you more prepared for future challenges. You can't make an omelet without breaking some eggs. You've made it this far. Trust in yourself, trust the process of continually improving, and be honest with yourself. Stand up and say "hi, my name is [insert name here], and I'm a recovering perfectionist!

Malaika Simmons