How many of you have ever stopped yourself from putting your work or yourself out there because it wasn't perfect? I'm raising my hand for this.

Have you ever wondered why it had to be perfect or you had to be perfect? Scratch the surface and with some honest self reflection, it won't take long before you realise your need to be perfect comes from a place of fear.

Dr. Brene Brown beautifully states, the reason we place this condition on ourselves is because it is a protection mechanism. It is the belief that if my work is perfect or if I'm perfect then, I won't be judged or put down or criticised.

Our fear of feeling we are not enough as we are, right now, is showing through in this need to be perfect. This fear of being less than comes out in our need for our work or for ourselves to be perfect.

The pursuit of perfection is futile because it is subjective. What I consider to be perfect may not be to your eyes. So there is no objective measure of what is perfect.

Professor Andrew Hill, co-author of meta-analysis of the rates of perfectionism captured it beautifully in one line: Perfectionism isn’t a behaviour. It’s a way of thinking about yourself.

It is characterised by a hypercritical relationship with one self - it's that critical inner voice which narrates a conditional self-worth.

Difference between Perfectionist and High Achiever

In a nut shell, one is unhealthy and the other healthy.

Whilst both of these strive for excellence in the pursuit of their goals, the perfectionist is highly critical of themselves and will not accept anything short of "perfect". The perfectionist is extrinsically motivated by the need to please or win approval and praise. They end up unable to feel satisfied and content because nothing is ever good enough. This leads to the inability to enjoy the process of discovery and the journey towards the end result. This mindset does not allow them to enjoy life.

The high achiever, on the other hand, is usually motivated internally. The need to do the best they can so they feel accomplished and proud of their work. They don't beat themselves up for mistakes nor do they play a constant, self-critical and negative tape in their head. They are more likely to recognise the point of good enough.

5 Harsh Consequences of Being a Perfectionist

  • Nothing is ever finished - Because everything has to be perfect, nothing is ever done or shared with the world. You end up avoiding sharing your ideas, models, concepts, and your work which means you stagnate your own growth
  • Increased stress levels and anxiety - Perfectionism is incredibly stressful as you are constantly worrying whether something is perfect before sending it out to the world. It leads to discontentment as you're never satisfied
  • Lack of self worth - The hypercritical nature that comes with perfectionism creates a negative tape playing inside your head - on repeat. We become what we believe. What is a belief? A belief is nothing but a thought that you believe is true. Therefore, those negative views and words playing in your head become your mantra and your belief of your self. A highly toxic and poisonous cycle that impacts your self worth
  • Lack of ability to take risks - Being a perfectionist makes you worried about failure and reluctant to try new things and take the road less travelled. The need to do things perfectly or not do it at all keeps you on the same path and doesn't fuel growth. Growth comes from pushing boundaries and extending yourself beyond your comfort zone
  • Stifles creativity - Innovation and creativity are synonymous with failure. It is daring to learn from our mistakes but being a perfectionist makes you worried about presenting anything less than "perfect" so your thinking becomes limited to what you already know

Ending the Perfection Paralysis

The Game Changer - Realising the need to be perfect is based on fear and it is nothing more than a self protection mechanism which in the end is stifling your own growth is the beginning of the end.

Basing your self worth on other people's opinion, places you in a constant state of vulnerability and volatility. Seeking this type of external validation lays the foundation for insecurity. A huge weight was lifted off my shoulders when I stopped giving so much emphasis to external validations and realising that true success is the progress towards your goals and purpose in life.

Our biggest moments for growth lay in our failures, our trips and falls. If we don't give ourself permission to fail, we curb our own growth and limit our experiences of the world.

Work on the Good Enough principle - Understanding what constitutes "good enough" will give you a point for which to aim. It is the realisation that any more effort, time or money spent won't improve it in a meaningful manner. Therefore, you should finish it, send it out to the world and move on.

Don't personalise feedback - Feedback is sometimes hard to hear, whether you are a perfectionist or not. In this case, when you are a perfectionist, feedback is taken at a much deeper level and amplifies conditional self worth. For example, if I receive negative feedback then, I've failed - the step further is that I also think I'm a failure.

Become discriminatory in the feedback you seek - This is advice which is great for everyone. I'm reminded of a great quote by Dr. Brene Brown, "If you're not in the arena with me getting your arse kicked, then, I'm not interested in your feedback". Basically saying, if you aren't putting yourself out there, giving it a go, and you're just sitting on the sidelines giving advice then, I'm not interested in hearing it.

So the next time you hesitate in putting yourself or your work out there, ask yourself "have I done the best I can with what I have?". If the answer is yes, then let's give it a shot and look for the insights and learning that will propel you towards your goal.