“Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.” ~Brené Brown
Perfectionism is a huge trap that continues to be perpetuated as a humblebrag: “What can I say? I’m a perfectionist!!”
What a scam. And it’s funny because I’m actually to the point in my personal development journey that associating myself with the concept of perfectionism is an insult … to myself. I want to distance myself from the concept as much as possible. Someone calls themselves a perfectionist and I want to roll my eyes. Yes, I hate it that much. #rantover #kindof
But why do I feel this passionately anti-perfectionism?
Because the idea of striving for perfection helps no one. It keeps us from realizing our true power and coming fully into our unique amazingness by setting up some arbitrary standard of what we should be. Ugh. It does us a complete disservice.
The argument in favor of perfectionism usually comes down to striving. Perfectionists “expect more from themselves” or they “raise the bar” and “hold themselves to higher standards.”
Great. But maintaining high standards and being effective at life are two different things. And operating as a perfectionist is actually the opposite of effective. Which is ironic, because we tend to think perfectionism is a useful productivity system. Like, when I’m operating as a perfectionist, I get more done, or I do things better. And that’s actually not true.
Perfectionism is paralyzing.
Traits of perfectionists (adapted from ‘Being Happy’ by Tal Ben-Shahar):
- Sees the journey as a straight line, and struggles excessively when things don’t go “as planned”
- Fears failure, can’t see failure as feedback
- Focus is on the destination, can’t appreciate the journey
- Employs all-or-nothing thinking, instead of seeing/appreciating the nuance
- Usually defensive, takes things personally, rarely open to feedback
- Continually finding faults rather than seeking out the bright spots
- Harsh and distrustful, doesn’t forgive easily (others, but usually more themselves)
- Tends to be rigid and static, not adaptable or flexible
Can you see how operating with these guidelines and boundaries actually holds us back? A perfectionist tends to be, ironically, more insecure and unsure of themselves. On the other hand, those who allow for some struggle and don’t take the ups and downs in life as personally, tend to trust themselves more and are able to bounce back quicker.
And when it comes to weight loss and body change, I don’t think you’ll find a bigger group of perfectionists anywhere.
Perfectionism, on the surface, seems benign. Or even admirable: “I’m only trying to reach my potential! I know I have more in me! I only want to do my best!”
But what research shows actually happens when people approach any endeavor/life with a perfectionist attitude is a whole lot of nothing. Perfectionism is debilitating because it only allows for action when everything is “ideal” and there’s absolutely zero chance for failure.
Can you see how this limits the amount of things we will do? Chances we will take? Lessons we will learn? Opportunities for building resiliency?
And to me, a resilient approach is the #1 thing someone needs to move from an all-or-nothing dieter to a forever-healthy eater. It’s the thing that puts them back in power after a couple poor food choices. It’s what helps people jump right back in, instead of waiting to “start on Monday.”
Resiliency is honed through acting without assurance as to what will happen, but trusting in ourselves that we can handle it. We trust that we can handle the failures, the challenges, the discomfort, the pain, the vulnerabilities when and if we fail. Perfectionists don’t give themselves those opportunities.
I was at a conference last month, listening to a talk given by Zappos co-founder and current CEO of Delivering Happiness, Inc., Jen Limm. To say that Jen understands and lives a life of positivity is an understatement. She’s smart, humble, kind and easygoing — and in her talk, she discussed the keys to, well, happiness (who’s a better expert?), and one key insight was around authenticity and transparency. She said that committing to “be real” and to “be yourself” holds tremendous power when it comes to happiness.
She said, “Image being true to your weird authentic self.” People who show up in their life as-is and let it all hang out tend to be happier.
How … scary?
This piece of Jen’s talk resonated very strongly with me, because I thought, “How many of us spend our lives trying to cover all that up?” How many of us try to put on the perfect face, where it’s all good, and we have it all figured out, and everything’s just smooth sailing — at the very least, we tend to do this in the online space. I do it. You do it. We all do it.
For me, perfectionism can be distilled down to “shoulds.”
And the disconnect between where we are and where we think we should be is filled with self-judgment and painful emotions of not-good-enough-ness:
- I should be leaner
- I should have more money
- I should be further along
- I shouldn’t still be dealing with this shit!
- I should have this figured out by now
- I should have a better relationship
- I should be further along professionally
- I should have more, be more, do more … blah blah blahhhhhh
Expectations, while most of the time unavoidable, are also one big, fat trap. “Shoulds” keep us from appreciating the amazingness that is. When we are shoulding all over ourselves, we miss the things that make us uniquely … us. Like Jen said, the peace and magic is located in each person’s unique contribution and genuineness.
The difference between embracing fully who we are and trying to change who we are to appear “perfect” — is misery.
And another way of saying “anti-perfectionist” is “authentic.” To me, they are opposites. Someone who shows up in the world 100% authentically is in their integrity and is honoring themselves completely. They show up as-is, and have the courage to let the chips fall when it comes to other people’s responses, outcomes, results, whatever. They prioritize self-reflection over what will look good to the outside world.
Is this hard??
You bet! It takes a whole lot of courage and self-trust and vulnerability. It’s hard to show up emotionally open in a judging world. It’s scary to let them see you sweat, especially when everyone else is doing their best to cover up those parts of themselves they’re ashamed of.
But the irony of shame is that when it’s exposed, it dissipates. Like Brene Brown says, “Shame can’t survive being spoken.” So in a sense I need you to get up on your high horse about this a little. I need you to get borderline angry that we all keep falling into this trap. I need you to turn up your nose to those who continue to try to put on the perfect face and parade around clinging to some random ideal to keep themselves feeling inadequate.
Because we each have the opportunity, right now, to feel perfectly good enough. And the key to that is owning who you are fully. Allowing others to see you, see the real you. Letting those chips fall and owning that shit. Because when you don’t own it, it’s almost like you’re apologizing for who you are. And maintaining a perfectionist operating system keeps us small and insecure, unhappy and ineffective.
Authenticity is what turns who you are into enough.
Like my good friend Jen Sinkler, founder of Thrive as the Fittest says,“There is no option other than to operate with authenticity and transparency. It is the only way to truly connect with people, to be of service, to get anything of meaning at all done.” Jen does authenticity better than anyone I know, and the number of deep connections she’s creates, and the level of trust in her online community is proof.
Be Yourself. Who’s Better?
Do what you do best. No one can do what you do. Why? Because you are you. And there is plenty of room for everyone to make a unique dent in this world.
Be apologetically authentic. Stop worrying about how you’re being received or how things look to others. The more real, transparent and open you are, the more people relate to you, and the more comfortable they will feel sharing with you. Perfection is a myth. Being you, without considerations, puts you in your flow. It puts you in your creative power. It creates a situation where no one can compete with you because you’re uniquely you, and you’re owning it.
Are you going to be an Anti-Perfectionist in the new year? I definitely am. Showing up 100% as who I am and letting the chips fall, trusting myself that I can handle any of it. Is this a struggle for you? Let me know on the JillFit Facebook page!
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