Recently, I was scheduled to do a photoshoot, which I was really excited about. I was going to get to dress up, get my hair and makeup done and feel fabulous for the day. Who wouldn’t love that? But in my excitement, I started to second guess myself. What if I chose the wrong outfit? What if I had a bad hair day or spilled coffee on my dress? Yikes!
Not long after, I was going to be facilitating a multi-session mindfulness course. I had lots of ideas and only had to send an email to get the ball rolling. But the days kept passing and no email went out…sigh.
Even though both of these were things I chose to do, and actually wanted to do, I still struggled with a need for each to be perfect. And this struggle for perfectionism nearly sabotaged the joy and excitement I felt but had yet to experience.
How many times have you taken on something new and thought, “I have the perfect plan for this!” You’re in a great frame of mind, full of optimism and enthusiasm. How could anything go wrong?
This is a lesson that life keeps trying to teach me again and again. Going for the “perfect” solution can be extremely limiting. It can squash creativity, hinder inclusivity and collaboration, and make it nearly impossible to enjoy the experience. And aren’t we always telling ourselves to enjoy the journey and not be so focused on the outcome?
Signs Perfectionism is Creeping In
For me, the first sign that perfectionism is beginning to take hold is procrastination. I had lots of ideas and could tell you all about the benefits of these two projects. So why couldn’t I get started? Days had passed, and I had taken no action.
Finally, enough time had gone by on the calendar that I no longer had the luxury of procrastination. I now shifted into anxiety mode. My thoughts about all the possibilities and positive outcomes of each activity were gone. Instead, I felt overwhelmed by feelings of unease, nervousness, and self-doubt.
Once these thoughts and feelings begin, it can be difficult to tamp them down. They seem to grow and grow, building up speed like gusty winds that suddenly turn into a fierce hurricane.
And that’s when I shift into the third stage of my battle with perfectionism – just do something! This is the point where any action will do. Something is better than nothing.
But, I’ve been here before. I could see panic mode barreling toward me, so I decided to take my own advice: pause, and focus on the present.
This is a choice that each of us can make again and again. Rather than riding the wave of fear and anxiety about what’s happened in the past or what may happen in the future, we can step out of the turbulent water and onto the safety of the beach?
This beach I refer to is the present moment. And we can step onto that beach by simply sitting still and taking a few deep breaths.
As we get comfortable on this warm, sandy beach of the present, we can tap into ourselves and what’s really important.
With just about any project or task, we benefit from allowing room for exploration and adaptation. As better ideas replace our original ones, we can engage others in the process. Getting advice, sharing ideas, and collaborating will help us refine our ideas even further and gain clarity on next steps.
Breathing deeply into the present moment allows us to relax the stranglehold of perfectionism. There’s no longer one way to approach a task, one solution that’s “perfect”. Instead, there are many possibilities, many routes to reach a destination of accomplishment and satisfaction.
Once I had created this space, the possibilities revealed themselves. I was no longer solely responsible for the success or failure of either project; I was part of a team of explorers looking to experience something new and different.
Letting Go of Perfectionism
All of this represents letting go of perfectionism to me. The process felt very freeing, a bit adventurous, and overall left me with a sense of contentment. The two projects went well. I know I was fully engaged and showed up as my authentic self, and I think others saw this and were able to do the same.
As team members shared their perspectives, it confirmed for me that letting go of perfectionism does not result in a reduced outcome; rather it creates the ideal conditions for exploration and growth.
And although there’s no guarantee I won’t meet my perfectionism again, maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to recognize it early and quickly find myself on that warm beach, breathing deeply, enjoying the sunshine.
How has perfectionism affected your business or personal life?