Perfectionism [Podcast Episode 9]

Perfectionism [Podcast Episode 9]

Episode 9: Perfectionism

Perfectionism robs the air from the room, the sleep from our nights, the enjoyment from our efforts.

As a recovering perfectionist, this podcast episode is my love note to anyone struggling with perfectionism.

It’s impossible to be perfect, and I’m offering a compelling argument for why you should stop trying and an exercise to help you change this pattern that holds you back from the greatness you seek.


Full Episode Transcript

Hi, Goalies! How are you today?  Did you catch it? I decided that you guys are going to be called goalies because I know all of you are focused on achieving big, huge goals. And the power vested in me has declared “change approved!!!” So what is going on, goalies? How are things going in your world? I hope that you are having a fabulous day and that you know how incredible you are. I was talking to my husband this morning before he left for work and I told him I’m recording a podcast on perfectionism today. And Jason, my husband, jokingly said “it better be perfect.” And after I had a little laugh at it, I said, “actually, it doesn’t. And that’s what will make it perfect.” Oh, my gawd, you guys!! That was such a hard fought victory from this recovering perfectionist. I felt so much relief in that moment and so much pride in the work that I have done to change my perfectionist tendencies. And they’ve been there for as long as I can remember. Maybe it’s because I’m a Virgo, or maybe it’s because I’m the oldest child, or maybe because I was the product of the 80s self-esteem movement that excessively praised children for their accomplishments rather than their humanity. I don’t know. I don’t necessarily have to know exactly why it’s there, but I’ve been a raging perfectionist for as long as I can remember. I really, honestly don’t have a memory from childhood that doesn’t include me trying to live up to one impossible standard or another. Like even if you could earn a 4.0 or you did, then they go and add AP classes on top of it, and up the ante. And then all the high achieving perfectionist spin out. In that moment it feels like never good enough. It becomes a suffocating trap. Perfectionism, never being good enough, it’s totally and completely suffocating. And so I say I’m a recovering perfectionist because it’s a lifelong pattern that I will need to be aware of. I don’t think it’s ever going to go away. But the more I practice not leaning into perfectionistic tendencies and beliefs, the more I will reduce the frequency and the severity of my quote unquote relapses with perfectionism. And really, our work in changing this pattern – the goal – is to have awareness of this thought pattern, these thought errors that our brain offers up, without judging ourselves. And then redirect our focus and our mind and our beliefs to more helpful and effective areas that will help us make progress and move forward and an experience enjoyment in life. At the root of perfectionism, it’s this underlying belief that achievement is what makes us worthy. The more that we do, the more that we achieve means we have worth and the more perfectly we do things, the more perfectly we achieve things, only enhances how much more worthy we are. It’s this weird assumption that everything that we’re doing in life is graded and it’s a really big focus on earning the approval of others – people in our family, coworkers, supervisors, friends, complete strangers. It’s this lie that our brain loves to tell us – that once we achieve perfection, then and only then will we feel adequate, confident, successful or worthy. Ultimately, it is a fear of flaws. It’s a fear of mistakes. It’s a fear of failure. I talked about it last week – this fear of failure – and really you can never be a failure. We have failed attempts, but failure is not a personal characteristic. But our big, beautiful brain disagrees with that thought and tries to really teach us and convince us otherwise. And perfectionism becomes trying to over control everything in our life to prevent people from seeing our flaws or from making mistakes or failing. Perfectionism is really an attempt to not feel the quote unquote negative feelings of embarrassment, rejection, judgment, humiliation and shame. But you know, what’s really weird? It’s that when we are experiencing perfectionism, we are tormenting ourselves with those emotions already. We are embarrassed of everything. We reject ourselves. We judge ourselves. We feel humiliated over the smallest, silliest things, and then we shame ourselves for not being good enough. Perfectionism causes us to spin out. I know you know what I’m talking about. And we end up experiencing a ton of anxiety about anything and everything that we’re working on. I don’t know about you, but I tend to spend and in the past have done it. Obsessive planning and strategizing, trying to come up with the perfect plan, and then I rarely execute it or take the first steps and at the first step of it, not going perfect, of there being a mistake, of there being a hiccup, I would ditch the plan. You know, it’s like this false sense and belief that we can plan for everything. We can see it all out in advance. And we didn’t account for that or didn’t go the way we thought it should. So, of course, we should have. It’s not good enough. Perfectionism also causes us to keep learning more. That our knowledge, our skills, our abilities, our credentials, our experience, our achievements aren’t enough. So clearly, we need to pad on more before we take action. And so because of this pattern, we often fail to deliver, to launch, to hit send, to share, to put ourselves and our work out there in the world. Unless there’s somebody else that’s given us a deadline and forcing us to deliver the goods. Perfectionism also creates a whole host of other problems. Because of it, we often take inconsistent action and inconsistently create results. We’re doing more, spending more, worrying more, ruminating about things, more planning, more strategizing than doing the work. Perfectionism also often leads to imposter syndrome, which we talked about last week. But if we don’t think that it was perfect, then clearly we’re all wrong. We also tend to have an all in or all out mentality. It’s that, if it’s not perfect, I’m not doing it. If I didn’t follow the plan and execute it exactly as I had strategized, then I’m out. We often spend a lot of time abusing ourselves when we are in a perfectionist state of mind. There’s a whole lot of self judgment, criticism and punishing ourselves for not being perfect. There’s often obsessiveness, endless rumination about the past. We hide or we hold ourselves back. A lot of perfectionists are also struggling workaholics. The inability to turn off power off, to walk away from it, to take a break, to have some fun and play. Perfectionism also creates a huge disconnect in our relationships, because when we get deep into perfectionism, not only are we holding ourselves to perfectionistic standards, but we often try to apply those to the people closest to us spouses, family, friends. And the longer we stay in this high anxiety, this super charged pattern, we are more likely to experience massive stress related health issues. I mean, that’s a big part of my journey. You know, all of this mental chaos that my brain created led me to overwork myself and put myself last. And I ended up struggling with a chronic illness for ten years and, you know, obviously got worse and worse. And it finally got to the point where I had to put my entire life on hold to heal my physical space and heal my mental health and my emotional health. And so leaving this unchecked creates so many more problems than keeping it around. Another thing that perfectionists tend to do and what’s even more toxic is to look backwards and see how we weren’t perfect in the past and then punish ourselves for it as if there was anything that we can do right now in this moment to change it. A lot of times we don’t realize that we’re applying our current knowledge to a version of ourselves that didn’t know what we know now. The version of us in the past does not have the knowledge, the skills or the abilities to do better. She’s not the same person that you are now. And if you’re applying who you are now to who you were in the past and judging yourself and criticizing yourself for not doing it better, there’s zero benefit from that. I already know, you know, this feels like shit, but I just want to point it out. I know you’re doing it and I promise you want to stop. It’s not ever going to change the past and it’s not going to make you feel any better. I’ve worked with so many perfectionists and this is pretty much my rally cry: perfection is the enemy of progress. It is the enemy of greatness. Because when we are stuck in the perfectionistic loop of always trying to make it better, of it never being good enough, we don’t take enough action. We don’t put our work out in the world. We don’t go out and fail forward. We end up delaying our progress, thinking that if we perfected it, then we can prevent the pain of mistakes and failing forward. But the reality is, is the way we make progress is failing forward. it’s building on our failed attempts. And really, perfection is elusive at best. It’s not real. It’s always unattainable. The only real thing about perfectionism are the unrealistic expectations and standards that we’ve created for ourselves and other people in our lives. Impossible standards and expectations. That’s what perfectionism is. It’s a suffocating way to live. Imposter syndrome and anxiety are almost always riding shotgun. Pressure, overwhelm, stress, and spinning out are a given. The belief that we have to be perfect, that our work has to be perfect, creates those feelings. Friends! Progress is better than perfection. My coach says your B minus work is good enough. That set me free on so many different levels, you know, as high achieving people who are also perfectionists on top of it, our work, our B minus work is already better than most of our peers. My other coach set me free with this thought: “I can’t get this wrong.” How beautiful is that? If I’m not a failure, if it’s only a failed attempt. I’m either learning from it or I’m growing from it or I’m moving forward. It’s always a win. It’s never wrong. A few years ago, my husband and I were in Soldotna, Alaska, going salmon fishing. We’re on the Kenai River fishing for sockeye salmon and we’re driving through town. And there is this little hardware store that had a letter board sign. And they always put fun sayings up on it. And one day it said “pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.” And it stopped me in my tracks, guys. Our love for ourselves, our love for our work, the enjoyment we experience …Is what makes it perfect. But perfectionism blocks our love and compassion for ourselves and our work. It literally blocks perfection because there is no pleasure being experienced. I love this quote from Sheila Beloff: “messy, inconsistent action wins over sporadic, quote unquote, perfection.” Perfection is really striving to erase your humanity. I’m going to say that again, because that shit is so real. Perfection is really striving to erase your humanity. Your flaws, your imperfections, your mistakes and failures are what make you perfectly you you are so uniquely beautiful and special because of your imperfections. You are an original work of art, a masterpiece exactly as you are. AND an incredible work in progress. You are never intended to be perfect friends. Original works of art are imperfect. If you’ve ever gone to a museum and looked at them, you can see the cracks in the paint. The texture is often rough. It’s why collectors pay millions of dollars for original works of art. If you want perfect and something far less valuable and unique, buy the lithograph or the copy on a postcard print that’s missing all those imperfections. Humans are imperfect and that is perfect. So I want to give you an exercise to help you change this pattern. I want you to take out a journal, a piece of paper, and write down: “what beliefs are causing me to be a perfectionist” and then download all of that crap out of your brain. Keep writing until you can’t think of anything else. Don’t judge anything that you’re putting on that paper. I want you to recognize that everything that you put down there are only thoughts. And they aren’t true. They only feel true because you’ve practiced them a lot. And then once you have all of your default, regular, go to perfectionist thoughts in one place, I want you to make a list of thoughts you’d like to work on believing about yourself and your work instead. Throughout this podcast, I’ve offered a bunch that have helped to set me free. So by all means, please borrow those. You know, I borrowed quite a few from my mentors along the way. I’m going to read them off again now. And I want you to notice how these thoughts make your body feel when I read them aloud. Perfection is the enemy of progress. It’s the enemy of greatness. Perfection is elusive at best. It’s not real. It’s always unattainable and always a lie. Progress is better than perfection. Pleasure and the job puts perfection in the work. Humans are imperfect. I’m a human, so it’s OK to not be perfect. My B minus is good enough. I can’t get this wrong. I am enough. I’ve always been enough. I’m one hundred percent worthy exactly as I am right now, in this moment. I am perfectly imperfect. My imperfections are what make me me. Friends. It’s time to drop the unrealistic striving for perfection. I know it makes me feel like shit and it’s time to let it go. It’s not real. It’s just a lie that your brain is beating you up with. So let’s work on that. If you would like some help with perfectionism, if you’d like some coaching on this, I would love to help you. We’re going live on Thursday, next week for a live coaching session. It’s free. We’ll discuss perfectionism and all your questions. I can coach you on it if you’d like. Go to for more information and to register. And I hope that you have a beautiful week and you know how much I love you. I’ll talk to you again soon. Ciao ciao.

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