Do you confuse being authentic or successful with being perfect? How’s that working for you so far, or for those you know who practice this?
Perfectionists believe their value or worth (especially self-worth) as individuals is arrived at by virtue of what they do perfectly or by being seen as perfect or always right, rather than by who they are at their core (like the rest of us) or what they can contribute. They may apply this philosophy to others, as well. When they or others don't perform to their standards—even if those standards are unrealistic, which perfectionism always is—they seldom, if ever, pause to ask what is working right, and why, and how they can expand this into areas that would benefit from improvements. (A perfectionist—and proud of it—boss I worked for once said he didn’t want to focus on what was working right, only on what was wrong. You can imagine how much fun he was to work with.)
A favorite thought or saying of someone affected by perfectionism might be: "If everyone would just do what they are supposed to, everything would be the way it is supposed to be," as though life has a strict blueprint to be followed by everyone. These types “should” on people quite often. We might wish this blueprint concept were so at times, both for ourselves and for those we interact with, so life could seem easier and clear-cut, but that’s just not the way it is.
Thinking this way is actually more about how the perfectionist feels about himself or herself than it is about the others they aim this thought at. I’ve even known perfectionists who believe others should be mind-readers so they know what the perfectionist expects, without having to be told. Sometimes, anticipating what another expects or needs works out or is a good idea, but most of the time, we’re a bit busy focusing on other things, including our own issues, desires, and needs. Mind-reading shouldn’t be a requirement placed on anyone.
During life empowerment coach training, we learned that all of us must start where we are, acknowledge what is in the moment, and then move forward from there. Over the course of our lives, most of us have witnessed scenarios where someone insisted on nothing less than perfection from themselves and others. Perhaps we've even done this, to some extent, ourselves. Not only is perfectionism not realistic, it isn’t a goal—really, it isn’t, though many try to make it so for themselves and others. If you practice perfectionism, how can you accept where you are right now in order to influence where you intend to go and how you will experience your journey along the way, in a manner that cuts out a lot of the frustration and stress perfectionism causes? And if you can’t accept and allow this about yourself, how can you practice compassion, understanding, support, and encouragement with others?
Perfectionists, in my experience at least, do not have a tendency to focus on conscious awareness or personal growth—or if they do, they feel their inner work is deep when it’s actually shallow. This is because they are too focused on being perceived as right and unflawed. What an exhausting and frustrating way to live, for the perfectionist and those they live or interact with. Someone who is always right or unflawed (or, rather, deeply craves to be seen as such so they can believe this about themselves) can’t afford to demonstrate a need to do the inner work. That would mean something was “wrong” with them. Their egos don’t set to that place on their life and personal development dial. There’s either growth or there’s stagnation: the choice is ours.
What would a person's experiences, and the world as a whole, look like if we understood that life is an ever-changing process and that we process life and influence our reality through the thoughts, feelings, and actions we choose each moment to accommodate the changes we encounter? People who strive for perfection often have difficulty making decisions and moving forward, or when they do make decisions or move forward, it isn’t as enjoyable or fulfilling for them as it might be—or, likely, for others involved. It's no wonder they have trouble doing so! Take a moment to think about their energy and where that energy is focused. It's all about the individual and their ego-aspect’s demanding needs. It's constrictive rather than creative and or collaborative. It’s about doing for the sake of approval, not Being for the sake of having a fulfilling life experience.
Empowerment comes from embracing the perfection inherent in what is seemingly imperfect, as well as the imperfection in what is seemingly perfect. Who cannot recall having an experience that appeared, at first, to be negative only to discover a valuable purpose in it or for it at some later time? Or maybe the opposite happened and what seemed ideal turned out not to be. Why did this realization happen, if it’s happened to you? Because you processed the experience at an inner and outer level, no matter how long it took for that to happen.
When we actively, consciously engage in process, we waste nothing that comes to us as an experience to help us expand conscious awareness and grow from there. Perfectionists are not interested in process, as a rule, because of what I mentioned earlier: it may mean there’s something about them they need to work on or balance, and that can be a too-painful realization for them.
Process allows us to discover more of what we can about ourselves in relation to everyone and every situation that enters our lives. It is our opportunity to decide how to move forward, how to grow. Perfectionism stops us where we stand, even if we appear to move forward in our outer lives. It is an illusion, and it traps and constricts us because the life experience is not authentic and flowing, but forced. Illusions eventually get revealed as what they are. You want a stronger inner foundation and outer experience than this.
Perfection has rigid rules and is, as I said, not realistic. Excellence, however, is doable, attainable, and realistic. Excellence allows for creative expression and for us to move forward to the next level as we move along in our lives. Perfectionists believe there is only one level: perfection, which is an enervating path to follow. Those who aim at excellence realize there’s always a next level to aim for and go to, that we do learn from missteps, which is an innovative and life-affirming path to follow.
Every moment and experience provides us with an opportunity to assess what we want to glean from it, how we want to use it, and how we can grow from it. It’s a good practice, one you’ll appreciate.
Practice makes progress.
© Joyce Shafer