The Perfection Trap

Perfection - it's a Trap! - The Social Leadership Coach

Perfectionism is not a quest for the best. It is a pursuit of the worst in ourselves, the part that tells us that nothing we do will ever be good enough – that we should try again. – Julia Cameron

I am sure this is not just about me, if you studied in a Nigerian secondary school then you should understand this. The English Language was one subject that seems to always call for some sort of perfection both in speech and writing. I have put it to the test severally and was able to deduce then that my English teachers were perfectionists or rather expecting perfection especially as it pertains to essay writing.

Essay assignments and exams became a serious problem for me, the fact that I knew my teacher was expecting some sort of perfection always keep me paralyzed in thought. Time after time, I kept canceling my writings to begin again. Despite my numerous back and forths before I could finally put an essay together, the marks were never encouraging.

Soon I realized that the perfection my teachers were expecting is beyond what I can offer. Then I decided to only write to my best and aspire to do better each opportunity I have. Getting myself out of that fix was at a cost of several times I have wasted trying to write perfect essays.

The Trap

Michael Law said that perfectionism is not a deep love for being meticulous; it is rather about fear, fear of failure, mistake, or disappointing others. Try to remember the feeling that day you were trying to write your first application letter, or probably that first text message for your lover. I am sure you kept restarting and at a point felt like not writing it again.

You were trying to put together a perfect piece, but what did you get in the end? You were frustrated and sapped of the energy to progress. There is always a danger of being in this trap when you want acceptance from others or when you seek to please someone.

Perfectionism will hinder the joy of the process and negate the gradual progression of life. You may not have noticed because it is subtle, it is a call for acceptance that drives perfection. Trying to please someone or society will make you critical and never satisfied with your efforts.

Constantly living in this trap is an ingredient for bitterness and dissatisfaction. Anne Lamott said perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor. That oppressing voice keeps telling you that you are never doing enough and you keep feeling less of who you are. Do not be fooled to think seeking perfection is the way for growth, it is rather the way for self-criticism and dissatisfaction.

A perfectionist robs himself the joy of working with others. Do you have a friend or colleague that loves doing everything by himself? That is a red flag for perfectionism. Such people find it hard to work with people because nothing pleases or satisfies them.

Perfectionism kills art. I find that if I criticize myself, it spoils the fun. You can get paralyzed by analysis – it takes all the playfulness away – Geri Halliwell

Come back to Reality

I have many times dreamt of perfect moments and situations and I have always realized it is only a façade. You cannot have a perfect body, perfect friendships or relationships, a perfect career, or business. Just stop dreaming already and come back to reality.

Life has always progressed in stages, that is why a child will not start talking the first day. When he manages to start stuttering, it takes time to get clear and constructive. Nature does not teach us perfection, it rather teaches us growth and development. Every natural course is enough testament to enlighten us that perfection is a trap for the insecure.

Nothing in life defeats process, the plant grows and sometimes suffer a broken stem. A tendril does not twist perfectly, sometimes it meets an obstacle on its course and finds a way of escape. Success is far different from perfection. Failure is a tool that facilitates success, but how does it do that?

Accepting your shortcomings and learning to be better off is what brings success at the end. In the book of perfectionism, criticism is what failure brings; not a constructive process of learning to be better. Brene Brown said, “many people think of perfectionism as striving to be your best, but it is not about self-improvement; it’s about earning approval and acceptance.”

In the end, perfection is just a concept- an impossibility we use to torture ourselves and that contradicts nature- Guillermo del Toro.

The better way

Instead of keeping yourself grounded in how to be perfect, why not begin from where you are and enjoy the growth. Perfectionism is not only a joy killer and a dose to reduced confidence, it hinders hitting the start button. Stop waiting for the time to feel perfect or the resources to be all available.

Self-development should be the priority, not doing everything perfectly. Paul Aurden said “Too many people spend too much time trying to perfect something before they do it. Instead of waiting for perfection, run with what you have, and fix it along the way.” Aim for mastery instead of perfection, embrace the learning process.

“Perfectionism doesn’t believe in practice shots. It doesn’t believe in improvement. Perfectionism has never heard that anything worth doing is worth doing badly – and that if we allow ourselves to do something badly we might in time become quite good at it. Perfectionism measures our beginner’s work against the finished work of masters. Perfectionism thrives on comparison and competition. It doesn’t know how to say, “Good try,” or “Job well done.” The critic does not believe in creative glee – or any glee at all, for that matter. No, perfectionism is a serious matter.”

Julia Cameron

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