For as long as I can remember, perfectionism is something I’ve struggled with. It’s shown up in everything from polishing school assignments to planning a “perfect” wedding. It’s reared its ugly head in making me feel I wasn’t good enough if my output/project/speech/response didn’t meet my expectations. And in many ways, it held me back from pursuing my passions sooner and truly embracing life as it was.
While I would still consider myself to be a recovering perfectionist, I’ve learned a lot over the years about managing this trait. Here’s my advice for both easing up on yourself as well as how to let go of perfectionism.
#1. Recognize that it might be a cover.
One of the most powerful realizations I’ve had is that perfectionism isn’t always just about making something perfect for perfection’s sake. Often it’s a way for us to cover something else, or a crutch we rely on to get us out of something.
Let’s say, for example, that your perfectionism is in full force when it comes to polishing a presentation for work. It may seem like you’re just eager to make sure it’s as strong as it can be. But what if there’s something deeper going on?
Maybe you’re obsessing over every last detail because deep down you don’t believe you deserve to be giving the presentation. Or maybe it’s because you’re afraid of what people will think and that fear of others’ perceptions is causing you anxiety. Could it be that a bad presentation from a few years ago has caused you to lose confidence in your skills?
As you can see, there’s often more to it. And depending on the deeper issue, you can address it head on and work through those thoughts and feelings.
#2. Put things into perspective.
As I’ve shared in a past email, looking at the bigger picture is a phenomenal tool for mindset work. (And if you’re not on my email list, sign up here!)
If you find yourself obsessing over perfecting something, ask yourself a few key questions:
Does it really matter?
In other words, will this matter in a day? A week? How about in a month or a year? Most likely, it’s a small detail that will be worked through or remedied in the near-term.
Using the example of the presentation, will the font type and colour used really matter? If, worst case scenario, you skip a slide and miss one of your points, will anyone remember the next day?
Does this impact the bigger picture?
A bad mark on a test doesn’t make you a bad student overall, just like getting in an argument with a friend doesn’t make you a bad friend overall. Remind yourself to focus on the broader themes and trends of that part of your life – this can really help put things into perspective.
#3. See the beauty in the imperfection.
Have you ever had something turn out completely differently than planned, or totally “wrong” but then have the end result be better than before? Maybe you bought the wrong type of ingredient for a recipe but it ended up tasting even better with the new flavour. Or you forgot to do something but it ended up being done for you anyways, and better. In other words, there are often times where “messing something up” leads to an even better outcome.
Even when an imperfection on your part leads to something negative, is it all bad? Did it lead to a useful learning experience? Did it give you a fresh perspective? Or did it show you something you otherwise wouldn’t have known?
If you believe that things happen for a reason or that they unfold exactly as they should, imperfections are part of our journey and something to be looked at with greater objectivity.
#4. Learn from imperfections.
As I mentioned in the previous point, imperfections can be ripe with learning. And if your goal is to welcome more joy in your life, turn imperfections into learning experiences. This will make them feel more productive and will enable you to move forward with more wisdom.
Reflect on what you can learn, being careful not to turn it into spewing negative self talk. With the presentation example, if it didn’t go as planned, journal about what you learned. Maybe it was a more senior audience and your presentation was a bit too detailed for their needs. That’s great insight that you can use in the future to refine subsequent presentations.
#5. Lean into your fears.
In many ways, perfectionism can hold us back by creating a fear of failure. This stumps our growth and prevents us from chasing our dreams.
Instead, try to lean into the unknown and challenge yourself to dip your toe outside of your comfort zone and into an area of passion. My post and video How to Go About Finding Your Passion & Purpose in Life has more tips on how to explore your purpose in life.
How do you manage perfectionism? Have you tried any of these techniques, or is your approach different? Leave a comment and let us know.