The Myth of Perfection

According to Brené Brown, author of several New York Times bestsellers including The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, the definition of perfectionism goes like this: “Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels the thought, ‘If I look perfect, live perfectly, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.'”

Brené goes on to explain that perfectionism is self-destructive simply because there is no such thing as perfect. Perfection is an unattainable goal and is in fact really only about perception. We want to be perceived as perfect but it’s unattainable because it doesn’t exist and there’s no way to control other people’s perception of you, regardless of how much time and energy you spend trying.

Perfectionism is addictive because when we do experience being judged or blamed or feeling shame, we often believe it’s because we weren’t perfect enough so rather than question the faulty logic of perfectionism, we become even more committed to our mission of living, looking and doing everything just right.

So how do we overcome perfectionism?

We need to be able to acknowledge our vulnerabilities and practice self-compassion. When we become more loving and compassionate with ourselves and we begin to practice what Brené calls “shame resilience,” we can embrace our imperfections.

And it’s in the process of embracing our imperfections that we find our truest gifts and create our most meaningful connections and deepest relationships.

So first we want you to notice the difference between perfectionism and healthy striving. Healthy striving is simply wanting to do a good job for positive reasons and not because you believe that if you’re perfect you can avoid shame, blame, and judgment-all three of which we need to accept as realities of life.
So when you find yourself re-writing the report for the fourth time, ask yourself, “Am I just wanting to do a good job or am I trying to be perfect in order to avoid shame, blame or judgment?” Be honest with yourself and if the answer is the latter, stop and accept “good enough” or ask for help. It’s that’s simple. You can, at that moment, also remind yourself that perfection doesn’t exist and no one is going to notice the difference between excellent and what you think is perfect. You can also remind yourself that the time and energy it takes to go from excellent and what you think is perfect is not worth your health and your relationships.
Brené also believes that the need to be perfect is what kills creativity. How can you let creativity loose when you’re afraid to make a mistake? It even kills risk-taking for the same reason. If you take a risk, there’s always the chance you won’t appear perfect – and risk taking is what leads to the greatest entrepreneurial success.
Here’s a test to see if you fall in the category of perfectionist:

1. You feel compelled to be the best in everything you do, even if it’s something you don’t care that much about.

2. You’re hyper-critical and highly conscious of your and other people’s mistakes.

3. You spend much of your time to perfect something even at the expense of your health and well-being.

4. You set absolute ideals. There is only black and white, no grey.

5. You beat yourself up over the smallest thing that goes wrong.

6. You obsessively mull over outcomes and how you could have done things differently if they didn’t turn out as perfectly as you had envisioned.

7. You’re hyper-sensitive and defensive towards criticism.

8. You are so obsessed about achieving your goal that you seldom, if ever, enjoy or even notice the journey.

So I invite you to let go of the need to be perfect because the opposite of perfection isn’t imperfection or mediocrity—it’s reality.

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