Updated: Jan 14
Excellence vs. Perfectionism
So, congratulations - you're average.
Are the words “you are your own worst critic” ringing in your head right now? How many times have you said that to yourself, shrugged your shoulders, and then moved on to go about your day? I would agree this is a type of self-acceptance, but it is not the right one.
The type of self-acceptance we are emphasizing is the appreciation of our good points and understanding what can be done differently. We do not mean:
Giving up on self-improvement
Saying “this is the way I am; live with it.”
Not learning from mistakes
What we do mean is:
Accept you’re human and all humans are fallible (please see previous blog for refresher if you’ve forgotten!)
Focusing on your strengths and putting your weaknesses in context
Everyone’s perception is their reality
Building on last month’s issue on human fallibility, it is widely accepted in the Cognitive Behavioral Coaching (CBC) world that perfectionism is unattainable.
Would it be nice? Absolutely!
But, this type of life is reserved for our dreams. Perfectionism stems from assumptions and expectations about ourselves, others, and situations - a very common issue among humans. Wouldn’t you agree?
We inevitably want things to go our way or turn out the way we want them to, but this way of thinking is irrational and unrealistic to expect a perfect outcome each time. The only outcome that’s inevitable here is the stress that will occur from having expectations of perfect.
How many times have you heard the phrase, “failure is not an option?”
RAISE YOUR HAND, LOUDER.
This was one of THE most common phrases I heard growing up and the underlying assumption here is that a perfect standard exists - and has to be reached. But, understanding that this is not a scientific law of the universe is key, and thus replaced with the phrase “it’s all in my head.”
Diving into perfectionism, where does it come from?
Like I mentioned earlier, mine was taught through the important adults in my life and it wasn’t their fault. They wanted to show me that the bar could be reached, unbeknownst to them it was veiled with “perfect.” A client mentioned to me after speaking on this topic that her daughter would show her something she made, and her reply was “oh honey, it’s perfect.” She has since told me she replaced this phrase with “oh honey, it’s excellent.”
Psychology Today describes perfectionism comes from “the desire to avoid failure or harsh judgement.”
Since the rise of technology, how many of us are looking for perfection because we judge ourselves off others’ “highlight reels” that we see on social media? The article states,
“perfectionistic tendencies have increased substantially among young people over the past 30 years, regardless of gender or culture.”
What about the new standard of education? I’ve been sitting at dinner with others and the conversation goes to mention something along the lines of, “it doesn’t matter anymore that you have a Bachelors, that’s the new High School Diploma.” WOW. Why would we not think this new standard creates cutthroat competition and breeds perfectionism?
How do we seek something else?
In the spirit of fearing failure, we often forget that perfectionism causes paralysis and procrastination. Want more of a reason to seek something else? The unnecessary stress this causes can lead to mental health and physical health issues.
The only alternative here is to seek a life of excellence, tailored to your specific strengths and weaknesses. Excellence is rational, achievable, and an endeavor to do the best you can. This belief tends to remove fear and inspire an enthusiastic state of mind.
Here’s what it looks like:
“Next to excellence is the appreciation of it.” -- William Makepeace Thackeray
This mind shift is a difficult one to make, but one that is more rewarding. The perfectionist will never be happy with their efforts, resulting in low self-esteem and fear-based approach to life and work. Excellence helps to free up your creativity and enjoy the process.
Asking for help is the first step. Let's give it a go ... shall we?
Mackenzie Childs | MSc
Former educator, realist, and wine enthusiast, Mackenzie comes from a diverse background of behavioral intervention, teaching, and business development strategies. As part of a project within the Klein Independent School District to launch a new behavioral program on several campuses, she found her niche in wanting to help others grow their strengths within their career.
Drawing from experience in several industries, Mackenzie brings thoughtful, visionary, and practical coaching within developing organizations. When the stakes are high for a new or veteran executive, a troubled team needs intervention, or transition needs to take place, she can provide planning for the future while simultaneously improving day-to-day function. Her sensitive insight with tough issues defuses tensions and catalyzes collaboration.