We all like to succeed, don't we? No one sets out in the morning with hopes of failure. But some of us just want it more than others. In fact, some of us demand it. We want everything to work out perfectly and we put an insane amount of pressure on ourselves to make it happen.
The result? Lots and lots of stress for the perfectionist and also for the people who have to live with them.
The Random House Dictionary defines perfectionism as "a personal standard, attitude, or philosophy that demands perfection and rejects anything less." Obvious, isn't it, how that becomes a recipe for disaster? On the one hand, a perfectionistic attitude motivates us to always do our best. It makes us very persistent, to a point. Perfectionists make excellent students, driven athletes and aggressive salespeople. Unfortunately, they are all miserable. There is
How do I know this? Well, I hate to admit it but I have this tendency myself and I can tell you from personal experience that it leads to a lot of unhappiness. Why unhappiness? Wouldn't the drive and desire of a perfectionist practically guarantee them success? No. In fact, quite the opposite is true.
The constant drive for more and better, the goal of perfection, is simply unattainable. A perfectionist will be motivated to work hard and succeed at all costs, but they rarely do truly succeed. Setting an unattainable goal means that no matter how hard you try, you will always fail. In the perfectionist's mind, a high-six figure salary and national recognition and fame will be seen as failure if others in the field have a seven-figure salary and worldwide recognition. Crazy? Yes. But it's how the brain of a perfectionist works and it leads to frustration, burn-out and bitterness.
In my own life, I have planned and dreamed about many grand projects, but failed to follow them through to completion. Why? Because I've never felt that I knew enough about anything that I was trying to do. It wasn't that I didn't have a great deal of knowledge. It was simply that others had more training or more experience or more letters after their names. Unless I knew more than everyone else, I never felt that I knew enough. Can you see how that leads to failure. That attitude dooms a person to failure before they even get to the start line.
Look around you. Who do you see that has really made it in life? Who do you know that has accomplished great things? Chances are good that they are not perfectionists. More likely, they are people who, whether they have superior skill, talent or knowledge or not, believe in themselves. The people who are most successful and happiest in life are like the Little Red Engine that could - they just think they can. My husband has always reminded me that I don't need an encyclopedic knowledge of a field to be competent and to do well in it. I just have to know more about it than the average guy on the street. I know he's right and I try, hard, to remind myself of that everyday.
Bur perfectionism runs deep. It isn't easily erased. It is true though, isn't it, that awareness of a problem is always the first step to solving it? I recognize now how perfectionistic thoughts have hindered me my whole life and I'm determined to change that pattern. Whenever I catch myself thinking those bleak and self-destructive thoughts, I do my best to put a stop to them and get real. So this is my new goal: to keep my perfectionistic tendencies in check and to no longer allow them to derail my dreams. And you know what? I think I can.