Perfectionism, The Dream Killer

woman wearing brown jacket
Photo by Learda Shkurti on

I find myself facing perfectionist tendencies of late (yours and my own), so I think it’s time we called them what they really are: dream killers.

What is perfection, anyway? Google says it is “the condition, state, or quality of being free or as free as possible from all flaws and defects.”

My own definition is an ideal in your mind of what flawless looks like that will forever be unattainable.

Perfect is what you imagine others to have defined. Yet perfect is what you decide it is.

Where does perfectionist thinking come from?

I believe it starts when we are very young and competing for attention of our parents, teachers, and peers. We get deposits in our emotional bank account with each action associated with praise and reward. Scoring high on the test, winning first place in the talent show, earning a starting position on the team.

Each deposit is a reinforcement that reaching the bar and exceeding it will bring us happiness.

Perfection is also closely linked to failure. As I’ve said before, we rarely view failures as lessons or opportunities for growth, but rather a testament of our inability to be perfect on the first attempt.

Perfection is an unrealistic expectation, a convenient excuse that we hide behind in order to justify not taking action.

Brené Brown says it best in The Gifts of Imperfection:

Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfectionism is not about healthy achievement and growth. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame. It’s a shield. Perfectionism is a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from taking flight.

Read that again: It’s the thing that’s really preventing us from taking flight.

One hundred percent accurate.

How many times have you told yourself that you’ll do something when?

I’ll put my pictures online or do that live video when I lose the weight. 

I’ll apply for that job when I have more experience. 

When I have a bigger house, I’ll be happy. 

When I’ve paid off the debt, I’ll start my own business.

What are we waiting for?

We’re waiting for an ideal in our minds that the only thing that will allow us to feel the feeling (of accomplishment, confidence, happiness, capability) is having it.

It’s a lie we tell ourselves. It’s that twenty-ton shield we hide behind.

Perfection seeking is a barrier to success and often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis, according to Brené Brown. “Life paralysis refers to all of the opportunities we miss because we’re too afraid to put anything out in the world that could be imperfect.”

Ah, there it is. There’s the truth.

It all comes down to fear.

We don’t want to be afraid.

Fear is one of those uncomfortable emotions we would rather avoid and so we push our dreams far beneath the surface and numb away the disappointment in our lives. Too often, we fail to realize that by numbing away the discomfort, we are also dimming our light, our creativity, and our drive – positive emotions. Tell me, how ambitious are you feeling after four glasses of wine?

You’re wasting your precious time in this life by playing it safe. You’re selfishly robbing the world of your gifts by keeping them hidden out of nothing more than fear.

You are afraid you won’t succeed on the first attempt, so it’s easier to not even try. You’re afraid of being judged, ridiculed, and laughed out of the room, so you don’t even take a step toward it.

This is just another way for me to tell you that the worst that can happen with anything that you do is that you will experience a negative emotion. You will have to feel it. You will have to be with it for a period of time. That’s all.

So what??

It amazes me all of the ways in which we limit ourselves and keep ourselves small because we fear our own feelings.

Full stop. That’s all this is about.

Yes, perfectionism is merely a shield. Something to hide behind. Something we use to justify why we haven’t started or completed a goal. This is not a quality to be proud of. You should be asking yourself the true reason you haven’t moved forward yet.

You should be willing to get out there and make as many attempts as it takes, and to fall as many times as it takes, until you have developed that new skill that will bring you to the next level. That’s the only way that it happens.

There isn’t one thing that we’re proficient at that didn’t take us many attempts and practice runs.

The moon and the stars do not have to be in complete alignment in order for you to take your first step. You will not succeed with perfection the first time. That’s not how it works. The skies will not open up and shine a spotlight on you because you accomplished the thing flawlessly.

Put something of yourself out in the world and then keep refining it until you get it right. Indeed, perfecting it.

The alternative is to keep putting it off until everything is perfect.

Let me know how that goes.

“Courage doesn’t mean there’s no fear. Courage means you’re scared shitless and you do it anyway.”  – Tony Robbins

Would you like to be coached on this or another area of your life? Book a free consultation with me here.

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