Updated: Nov 12, 2021
More than an unliveable goal, perfectionism is the Death of Dreams. I still marvel when people humble brag about being a perfectionist. I think I may have done this too once upon a time. You know the scenario, when they ask you in an interview: 'What are your weaknesses?' I suspect that I may have had my perfectionism as my go-to response in my earlier working days. But perfectionism is nothing to be proud of. If anything, it is an alarm going off in our nervous system desperately letting us know that we are in need of some serious TLC and self-compassion.
Our brains can be such tricky fraudsters. Sometimes I think of my brain as a double agent selling me out to the lowest bidder, and perfectionism is it's ultimate trump card.
The scenario goes like this:
I have a marvellous, and glorious idea. I feel inspired and juiced up. Sometimes I quite literally feel like I am floating through time, I'm that jacked up by my idea.
Next, I have to put the idea 'out there' among the people it will actually held or among the people who will make it possible
My brain then conjures a ruse with the implication that I'm being somewhat too big for my breeches thinking I might be even remotely eligible to offer this help or create this thing. That would be my first tango with imposter syndrome and I start to feel a little less floaty. The 'I am not good enough' vapours are in the air. A faint but unmistakable fragrance.
But hey! I am still inspired by my marvellous idea and I persevere
My brain then runs a new line and this is the one that really gets its hooks into me. This is the double agent rope-a-dope that keeps me busy but unproductive, and it is the distinctive beginning of defeat. Whereas previously it asked who I am to take on this idea, my brain now declares that if I am to take on this idea, I need to do it so well that it changes the world and creates a revolution that will endure through the ages
And so I set to work. And with each bit of progress, my brain up's the ante. Work, work, work, work, work, work.
Can't get it to good enough.
Idea will never work. It's not good enough
Why can't I get this glorious idea to good enough!!!!!
I'm not good enough
Imposter syndrome overdrive
Just go do something you know how to do
Beeeyyaaaatch! Stay in your lane!
WTF were you thinking!!!!
Hide away from the world
Stick my head deeper into the soil
Be more busy. Less productive. More Busy. Busy for no real reason. No real outcome
TV. Eat. Repeat. Hide from the world.
Can you relate?
Jeez, I know you can!
What I don't know is the frequency with which your dreams and ideas go to the slaughter house.
What I don't know is just how numbed out, disconnected and alienated you have become from yourself because of this soul destroying pattern.
What I don't know is the frequency with which you have witnessed your very ideas flourish in the hands of others: strangers, friends, colleagues, competitors, or worse yet, someone who is not nearly as skilled, talented or genius at this as you are.
Everyone has great ideas. Spectacular, earth shattering and life changing ideas. Mostly, we don't birth our ideas. Our brains betray us with good logic and lofty ideals and persuade us that we ought to wait until everything is 'perfect' before we advocate for our ideas and our dreams.
And so we are banished to endure yet another dark night of the soul where our self-doubt surges and we insulate ourselves from the pain by stepping even further away from ourselves.
The challenge is that our perfectionism always seems reasonable. Logical. Even obvious. Sometimes it even presents itself as understanding, enlightened and virtuous.
I have heard people say that they'll start when they have more money, time, learn more, practice more, when the kids are older, when their parents / relatives are more secured and settled etc, etc, etc. The challenge with this is there is no perfect time. The best time to get started is now. Yes, you may need to be selective at first with whom you advocate for your ideas as there are undoubtedly a bunch of negative Nancies out there who may try to stop you or shut you down. More especially, there are people who love you and don't want to see you hurt and disappointed, who may express their concern for you in a less-than-productive way. But let's be honest. Mostly, we shut ourselves down by succumbing to our fears and need to have everything just right.
I was talking to a client who was invited to a job interview. Not any job interview. THE job interview for THE job she had coveted for many years. How she came to be invited to the interview was the product of years of heard work, but according to her it was just luck. Go figure!
She had spoken to her sister about the interview, and her sister cautioned, "make sure you do the interview perfectly, because in this industry people know each other and if you blow it, you can kiss your reputation and career goodbye".
No pressure! Not a good headspace with which to go to an interview. In fact this is precisely the type of headspace that will set you up to blow an interview.
But so what! The world does not end with a bad interview and thankfully this lady had the presence of mind to do some thought-work prior to her interview and to interrupt the impending catastrophe being summonsed by her mind. She had a demanding interview and ultimately got the job.
Reality away from perfectionism is actually much brighter. When you look at the most successful people out there, they all say the same two things. 1 - They leaped before they felt ready, despite the vapours of perfectionism that hung around them; and 2 - they failed their way to the top, that they learned by their mistakes and went on. There are millionaires that lost everything, had their hearts broken, and had to rework their ideas. They made the choice to brush themselves off and as a result, they created more millions or found their dream partner and redeployed their ideas in a way that hit the target eventually. They were brave and they talked to people and connected with them. You can't succeed by being alienated from yourself or by being a hermit and going it alone.
Hey! Perfectionist! Yes, YOU. [and me too]
We are not born with all knowledge on all things. We are not robots, calculating our every move. We are human beings that learn by what we do. We discover by how we interact. We learn when we communicate our thoughts and ideas. Are there naysayers out there? Yes, shield yourself from them. Find the people who will root for you and help you give that perfectionism double agent lodged in your brain a run for its money. Your cheerleaders will help you do something really important: they will help you to advocate for yourself in a noisy world hellbent on persuading you that you are not good enough. Find them! They are your people!
A NOTE TO PERFECTIONISM
It is in the trying and in the being that makes us human. It is the journey not the end that tells us who we are and what we are made of. Perfection is neither and end, nor a means, it leaves no room for variation, creativity and understanding of the process. It is simply through the trial and error that we gain knowledge and wisdom. We remember and learn more through our mistakes than by what we do perfectly. For if everything were perfect, done perfectly, there would be no journey, no life, no adventure ... only an end.
From 6 – 9 December, I am hosting Passage to Bliss, my complimentary programme. The programme will be hosted online and the sole objective of Passage to Bliss is to help you surface above the chaos and to make your way to your unique genius. You will find more information here: https://www.newhabits.co.za/passagetobliss
My goal is to support professionals who feel as though they are being torn in a million different directions to cultivate the mindset, outlook and behaviours that help them to thrive personally and professionally. By supporting them to establish positive professional and lifestyle strategies, they win more and earn more without it costing them their wellbeing and the people and and lifestyle they love.