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The Need To Be Perfect

CC Photo Courtesy of thienzieyung via Flickr
CC Photo Courtesy of thienzieyung via Flickr

Are you a perfectionist? A perfectionist believes everything should be done perfectly, without error or discrepancy.

Recently, I watched an episode of a popular sitcom where the main character, the boss, employed a polite, good-natured young man to do small jobs around the office. Throughout the day, the boss would stop by and inspect the progress of his employee’s projects. Oddly, the young man would be doing a wonderful job but would unexplainably make a mess or inadvertently ruin the project as soon the boss appeared. The boss eventually learned his employee was suffering from performance anxiety. As long as no one watched him work, he performed well. However, the fear of someone scrutinizing or rejecting his work immobilized his creativity and kept him from completing his tasks. As I watched this episode, the truth became all too clear: perfection is elusive.

Try as hard as we might, we will never come close to hitting the mark of perfection. To help you identify if you are striving for perfection, I have compiled a simple quiz. Please take a moment to answer the following yes or no questions.

You Might be a Perfectionist if …

1. Do you constantly focus on your personal imperfections, deficiencies, shortcomings or failures?

2. Do you refuse to start a task that cannot be finished quickly and without interruption?

3. Are your personal expectations exceedingly higher than others’?

4. Do others perceive you as prideful, possessing a “better than thou” attitude?

5. Do you refuse to announce goals or projects for fear you will fail?

6. Are you are reluctant to change set patterns or daily routines?

If you answered yes to three or more of the above questions, then you are definitely a perfectionist. One of the identifying traits of a perfectionist is the prevailing attitude that says, “If I can’t do it right the first time, I won’t do it at all.” Consider the fierce competitor who refuses to take part in an activity unless he is guaranteed to win. How about the leader who feels overly responsible for failure and carries an excessive sense of guilt he should have done more? Or the woman who turns down job promotions because she is afraid of failing at the next level? She feels her work is flawed, never good enough, and sadly, her potential remains hidden beneath the rubble of insecurity.

Is there hope for the perfectionist? If so, what are the steps to living a more balanced life?

Steps to Overcoming Perfectionism

I admit it: I am a perfectionist. My motto is, “I want things done right, and I want them done yesterday.” While there is nothing wrong with maintaining high expectations, it is important we develop balanced attitudes by creating realistic and achievable goals. Here are a few examples of how to balance out the perfectionist personality and avoid chronic burnout.

1. Develop Achievable Goals

Challenging a perfectionist to set achievable and reasonable goals is like asking a child to take only one bite of his ice cream cone: difficult but not entirely impossible. The dilemma most perfectionists face is the proclivity to overdo, overthink and overachieve, which unleashes a Pandora’s box full of negative emotions, rejection and eventually depression. When faced with a challenge, resist the urge to attempt too many tasks or to place unrealistic demands on your time or emotions. Learning to manage your schedule by setting reasonable goals guarantees a higher rate of success and a more balanced you. Discern your limitations. Allow room for flexibility, occasional mistakes and moments to simply enjoy the journey.

2. Relax

If you are like most perfectionists, then you experience an extraordinary need for structure and order. While this makes for a tidy house, it also generates high levels of stress that make you feel agitated, rigid and uptight. Others will find you more enjoyable when you do not take yourself too seriously. Learn to laugh at unavoidable mistakes. Loosen the mental control of having to be perfect. Above all, remember to schedule at least a half-hour of unplanned time each day to simply relax and unwind. Schedule time away and take a vacation when necessary. Be assured that your family, friends and colleagues will enjoy the refreshed and energized you.

3. Embrace Change

Let’s face facts. Perfectionists are generally inflexible to change. As a matter of fact, the drive to have everything in perfect order resists change. Change, however, can be good, as it generates both creativity and imagination. There is a healthy balance between obsessive-compulsive and outright lazy. Balance begins by understanding every segment of your life does not need to be micromanaged. Life is not an exhaustive sprint to the finish line. It will not fall apart if you miss a deadline, forget to take the trash out or leave a spoon unwashed. Challenge yourself to take part in noncompetitive activities and enjoy them.

Begin by learning to enjoy you. Forgive your past mistakes, admit you are human, and look forward to a new and exciting day.

About Tracey Mitchell

A national conference speaker, Tracey travels 40+ weeks a year, sharing Biblical principles and wisdom. Her real life experiences – though painful and challenging enable her to identify with the hurting, lonely, and rejected. Whether speaking to corporate CEO's or the homeless, Tracey's passion for re-writing the lives of the brokenhearted makes her messages relevant and empowering. A frequent television guest and host of "Today with Tracey, she is an advocate of those having experienced rejection, poverty or emotional abuse. Her new book release, “Downside Up”, via Thomas Nelson Publishers, is in bookstores now.
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