Perfectionism means a desire to produce something highly remarkable, exceptional, and unprecedented. It means holding such high standards for yourself that achieving them becomes impossible.
A lot of people confuse perfectionism with giving your best shot; these are two different things. Trying your best in the amount of time you have is good. But trying to achieve an unrealistic skill level or perfection sets you up for failure from the very start. It’s good to have confidence in your abilities and skillset. Still, when you set perfectionism as your goal, you always fall short of your expectations and keep disappointing yourself until you decide to quit your project.
How does perfectionism hold you back?
You feel you’re not good enough:
To succeed and improve yourself in any domain, you constantly need proof that you were born for it or that you are naturally talented to do it well. Since a perfectionist always thinks that his next painting will be a Mona Lisa painting or his next startup will be as innovative and famous as “Facebook, Linkedin, Uber,” he always falls short of his expectations. Although he might’ve written a good book or developed a good application, he doesn’t see any brilliance, magic, or excellence in his creative work. He compares it to the creation of people who’ve spent years honing their craft and gets disappointed. He feels he’s never going to be good enough. Frequently, he’d not even publish that work since he sees it with contempt and disdain. When he doesn’t publish his work, he never learns where he stands and lives in a distorted version of reality in which he’s not good enough.
It holds you back from taking risks:
You always take advantage of templates and themes when you want to build the perfect pitch deck or the most attractive website. The reason is that you fear that going for custom code may end up with something that is not per your expectations and high standards. Although this way, you might build something which appears attractive, it won’t be nearly as engaging as the one you’d have created if you had experimented a bit.
Experiments often result in time wastage. However, experiments and risks cause perspective shifts; We learn new ways of doing things and better ways of doing things. We learn about what works best in our case rather than for everyone. For instance, a person might read on the internet that meditation works best for calming one’s mind. But, he might never find meditation effective. He’d have to try several things like hanging out with friends, reading, and listening to music to learn what calms his mind. Maybe he can shift towards deep meditation practices after learning to focus more after engaging in these relatively easy activities.
On the other hand, if he were a perfectionist, he’d want to perform meditation or complex yoga exercises flawlessly as step one for focusing and will get infuriated when his mind would not stop negative thoughts and become as peaceful as 5am. He’d spend hours researching these exercises on the internet before even trying for the first time. He’d want to get every step right as per the instruction manual. But when he would fail to perform precisely like those yoga or meditation gurus, who have spent years practicing, he’d again feel like an imposter, a good for nothing.
Unexpected change of plans or requests put you to stress:
Suppose you’re a video editor. You’re editing a video. You have a deadline approaching, expecting all the video clips to be stable. But, just at the last hour, you learn some clips weren’t as stable or smooth as you’d want them to be.
At this point, the perfectionist would want to shout, scream, tear off his hair, bump his head against a wall, curse himself, remind himself of the times he has screwed things up before, type up a message to the client that he won’t be able to deliver on time and will need to re-do the whole video. Meanwhile, the client can’t offer any more extensions, and he’d most probably cancel the project when he reads his message.
If, on the other hand, this video editor was not a perfectionist, he’d realize that screw-ups are a part of life; He has learned an important lesson from this experience. He’d improve next time and pay special attention to stability when recording videos. He’d then work on a solution or a workaround, like using a warp stabilizer or slowing down the clip to make it more stable. What he won’t do is “Play the victim!”
So a perfectionist has an “All or nothing” mindset, where he believes in either delivering a project precisely in accordance with his vision or not delivering anything at all.
Perfectionism makes you live in constant stress and worry:
Even if a perfectionist musters up the courage to deliver a project, he’d still be looking for examples proving that his work could’ve been better.
He’d not be happy to see that he has progressed significantly from where he was before. Even when his clients are happy with his work, He will make up future catastrophe scenarios where his work is being mocked or ridiculed by others. When he sees someone doing something in a better way and then he gets infuriated at himself for not taking that route or course of action. He’d never be able to look at his work with pride. He’d rob himself of the satisfaction of giving something your best shot. He’d always find tiny mistakes in his grammar, punctuation, or methodology. He’d be his own worse critic, and his constant self-criticism will soon lead him to abandon his project, which he was once passionate about.
How to battle perfectionism
- Publish the work after giving your best shot. Stop listening to the voices inside your head that say, “let’s give it another go,” even after several attempts and proofreading or reviewing it repeatedly.
- Tell yourself that whatever the consequence may be, you’ll learn something from it, move forward, and gain momentum, and rejection doesn’t mean the end of the world. You’ll still get more and better opportunities even if your mind tells you that if this project goes south, the ground will open up and swallow you whole.
- Redefine your success metrics; For instance, a success metric could be “I have to make it better than the last time.” “I’d consider it a win even if one person gets inspired by this video.” “I’d consider it a win even if I read two pages today.” “I’d consider it a win even if I send a well-articulated and well-researched project bid today.”
- Stop comparing yourself to everyone who appears successful on social media. Your only competition should be with yourself.
- Take risks, and be open to failures. You should tell yourself that taking fewer risks might mean success in the present. Still, it won’t prepare you for dealing with diverse, challenging situations where a knowledge of different methodologies, techniques, or skill sets is required. When you take risks, you learn multiple ways of doing things, allowing you to choose the most optimal way of doing the assigned task or achieving a required outcome.
- Don’t beat yourself up. Realize you’re a work in progress. Tell yourself of all the things you’ve been able to do before remarkably well. Tell yourself you did a good job. Maybe take yourself out to buy icecream to celebrate your first attempt.
Ultimately, I’d like to sum it up by saying, “Fall in love with the process rather than the outcome.”
You’ll never improve the outcome without falling in love with the process.