I’m a recovering perfectionist. I say recovering, because it’s not something that you get over very easily. I have discovered though that being a perfectionist can hold you back tremendously.
Friends had told me that I was “too hard on myself” and that I was a perfectionist before, but I remember clearly the day I finally realized that they were right. I didn’t think I was a perfectionist. I just thought I had high standards, liked to do a good job, etc., and that people appreciated that. What I didn’t realize was that, according to my high standards, I would never, could never be good enough.
When I was in my 30’s I started taking piano lessons, something I had always wanted to do and not an easy thing to do if you don’t start when you’re really young. However, I was enjoying it and had a lovely, patient piano teacher. She would give me assignments and I’d go home and practice (never as much as I should) and then the following week I’d go back to her house for my lesson to play the pieces I had studied that week. This particular day I was playing a piece for her that I had studied and could play all the way through in my practice sessions at home. I started. I made a mistake. I started again. I made another mistake. I started again, and so it continued until she asked me why I kept starting again. I explained that I had studied the piece and could play it through without mistakes at home, and I wanted to play it for her without mistakes, so every time I made a mistake I started again (I know, it’s ridiculous now that I’m talking about it, but it didn’t seem ridiculous at the time!)
She said that professional players make mistakes all the time, but they just ‘play through’ them. They don’t stop. Of course they can’t stop if they’re in the middle of a performance. She said that I had to learn to ignore the mistakes and carry on. I could feel the resistance in my body as she said it. Ignore mistakes? How was this possible?
But she’s right. When we are so hard on ourselves that everything has to be just perfect before we do it, we often end up not doing anything at all. Since I’ve learned to identify this behavior in myself it’s also helped me to be able to spot it in others much more easily. I know people who want to start a business, but won’t do it until everything is in place and they know it’s all going to work perfectly. Well guess what, you won’t know that it’s all going to work perfectly until you try, and you make mistakes, and you try again, and you keep refining. You see the big lesson for me was that mistakes are not bad. That’s how we learn. But you can’t wait to put yourself out there until you’ve made all the mistakes ‘in the privacy of your own home’ and so now everything’s perfect and you’re ready to put it out there. Life doesn’t work that way.
I heard a speaker once say that we should celebrate our mistakes. That’s right, celebrate them. Because when we make mistakes it means we’re really living. We’re putting ourselves out there, we’re making things happen. We might fall down, but we learn from that, we get up again and we keep going. You wouldn’t expect your child to start walking the first time he/she tried would you? Of course not, you expect them to fall down, then stand up and try again, and yet we are often so hard on ourselves that we expect ourselves to learn or do something new perfectly each time.
So now I can honestly say that I make mistakes and I don’t beat myself up for it. Hanging on to perfectionism drains your energy. You become not very nice to be around. It also means that other people can feel intimidated around you – like you’re judging them as inferior. I remember back to a job I had many years ago. I had just been appointed secretary to the assistant director of a company. This was the most senior position I’d had at that time and I was extremely nervous. Of course, I wanted to do the job really well – perfectly. I was intimidated by the director’s secretary who seemed so efficient, so knowledgeable. Everybody loved her and she just made things happen. I was so scared of making a mistake – terrified in fact.
Some months later, I had settled into the job and the director’s secretary and I knew each other fairly well and had become friends. She shared something with me that shocked me. She told me that when I started in that job she was intimidated by me!! Me!! I couldn’t believe it. Why would she be intimidated by me when I felt like I didn’t really know what I was doing and was so afraid of making a mistake? It was because I tried so hard to be perfect that I put all my energy into it. This shuts you off from the outside world. It builds a wall around you. People are intimidated and don’t necessarily want to be around you. People identify with people who make mistakes. When I first started public speaking I was terrified of making mistakes, but as I grew into it (and became a recovering perfectionist) I started being okay with making mistakes. You know what? When I make a presentation and make a mistake and am just honest about it, those are the times when people come up to me afterwards and thank me for that mistake and thank me for how I handled it because they can identify with it and they tell me it’s helped them to not beat themselves up when they mistakes.
Letting go of being a perfectionist doesn’t mean you don’t do a good job. Just the opposite. I still have high standards, I put every effort into doing a the best job I can, but I’m not obsessed with it. This means that the energy it took to try and be perfect is available to me. It helps me to be more creative, connect with people more and ultimately, I think, to do a better job.
So go on – make a mistake, and enjoy it! Become a recovering perfectionist, it’s a lot more fun.
Linda Binns shows you how to turn crisis into opportunity. She provides practical information, tools and guidance to people interested in personal and spiritual growth. Join her free membership program, and get her 9-step e-course at harmonyinandout.com.
Linda Binns is author of Feng Shui for Your Relationships: Changing Your Environment to Create Better Relationships and The Energetic Edge: How Changing Your Surroundings = BIG Success. Learn more when you visit TheEnergeticEdge.com.