Making Sense of Work with Jean Balfour

Ep. #64 The Highs & Lows of Perfectionism

August 03, 2023 Jean Balfour Season 2 Episode 64
Making Sense of Work with Jean Balfour
Ep. #64 The Highs & Lows of Perfectionism
Show Notes Transcript

Ever found yourself being unkind to yourself because of perfectionism?

The endless self-criticism and worry and overthinking, tied to perfectionism only waste our precious time and energy.

And may stop us from brining our best at work.

In this episode, Jean Balfour will be revealing some effective strategies we can embrace to conquer this destructive perfectionistic mindset.

Book recommendation:
The Gifts Of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

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Hi everyone and welcome to making sense of Work. Are you a perfectionist? I used to think I wasn't a perfectionist at all. I don't have great attention to detail, and so I considered this really the only measure of perfectionism, and then a friend kindly pointed out that I certainly was a perfectionist in other areas of my life. And so today I'm going to talk about how I've come to see perfectionism and what we can do to work with it, to shift it, to change it. Before we dive into this, just to let you know if you'd like to be kept informed about my offerings or our Bailey for offerings, you can sign up to our newsletter at And big thanks to those of you who have rated and reviewed the podcast. It's so helpful to get a podcast noticed and out to more people. And if you've particularly enjoyed an episode or you would like to share it, please do either rate and review it, or maybe even share an episode with a friend. When my friend pointed out that I was in fact a perfectionist, it took me some time to metabolize it to, to make sense of what he meant. As I reflected on it, I could see so many areas of my life where I was constantly worried about getting things right. About not being criticized for things or for being average or not good enough. I could see that I wanted to avoid being judged maybe. So I worked hard to be perfect. I could and can still see when it shows up that when I'm caught up in trying to be perfect, it really holds me back. It slows me down and it actually leads me to quite a bit of angst, and I don't believe we need that angst. I also link my perfectionism to many, many wasted hours worrying about something that's happened or hesitating before sharing something for fear of it not being good enough. Going home from a dinner party with close friends wondering if I'd said something wrong or coming off a training session wishing I'd responded better to a student, or posting things on social media and seeing the flaws in it. I'm imagining some of you are resonating with some of this. Brene Brown has of course written a lot about perfectionism, and she says that where perfectionism exists, shame is always lurking. She goes on to say that shame is the birthplace of perfectionism. With perfectionism, we are attempting to ward off any criticism, and by this, we are trying to ward off feelings of shame or unworthiness or feelings of not being good enough. And I can see this, and as I was preparing for this today, that really resonated with me. I also really love Martha Beck's perfectionist credo. She says, if I try hard enough and I'm very careful and I follow all the rules, everything will go right and everyone will love me, and I'll feel good all the time. So she's taken it further even than Brene Brown by saying that if I'm perfect, I'll be loved and lovable and at work. That means that my boss will be grateful, see me as fantastic, and ultimately promotable. My colleagues will respect me, and I'll be seen all as an all round good person. When we are in perfection mode, what we are doing is we are aiming to act perfectly in all settings as well as doing things perfectly. So it's both an acting perfectly and a doing things perfectly. We are both editing. What we do and how we do it, and there can be a lot of self-judgment that comes along with perfectionism. When things aren't perfect, we end up being unkind to ourselves. We can self-criticize and tell ourselves to keep going even when it feels really hard. There is of course a problem with this. All this endless self-criticism and worry and overthinking, linked to perfectionism is a waste of our time and a waste of our energy, and we could be using that time and energy for other things, or for family or friends, or for walking in the forest. And so for me, I've come to see this as a real waste and I'm wondering if that resonates with you. For example, if you are in a role that you enjoy, wouldn't it be better to put all that energy into finding a way to see the bits of the role that you're really good at, the bits you do well instead of always, I think looking for the bits that are not going well, we could also identify and what we can keep learning and improving and getting better, but not striving for perfect. Maybe you are listening to this and thinking, yeah, I'm not a perfectionist, but like I was saying to myself, but I've come to see that. I think all of us have some tendencies in some places. So like mine isn't an attention to detail. It's in getting it right with people. Yours might be around how you lead or how you meet deadlines or how you develop strategy. I guess there might be at least one area for you. That you think things need to be exactly right. One of the things I've come to see as I've been really thinking about this is that perfectionism and people pleasing for me particularly, go really closely together. If I aim to be a perfect boss, colleague, partner, friend, whatever it is, perfect writer, perfect podcaster, then everyone will like me and then all will be well with the world. But as I've said, this is exhausting and. It's even harder I've seen when I'm tired or stressed because then perfectionism is a really long way off. And there's one other thought about this that being perfect isn't human either. I think that perfectionism is really impacted by the way that we are living, and I wonder if it's become more prevalent because of what we are seeing on social media, for example. We are seeing this kind of ideal. Perfect. Life and it seems to put up a standard that we feel we need to meet. If you think about the media Perfect Bodies or LinkedIn Perfect careers, careers that show people being really successful, getting promoted new jobs, but seldom do we see the other stories. We don't read the stories of somebody who got a performance rating they're not happy with, or somebody who's had a report that didn't go quite right. We are not writing about that on LinkedIn. We are writing about our successes and I believe that this triggers a bit more in us of this needing to kind of strive for those things and it shows up in other ways, stressing about an email or a report, or spending a long time before we do something because we want it to be good enough and hopefully perfect. So many times we are holding ourselves to these very high standards that are in fact, impossible to reach and achieve. Here are some other ways, if this is not depressing you enough already, but here are some other ways that I think we can show up as a perfectionism. We can say that if we're concerned about failure. And so we don't try. Then this can be linked to perfectionism because it has to be perfect or not at all. Maybe we want to meet a really high standard, and because of that, we put off starting because we are worried that it won't meet that standard. We're procrastinating and you can go back and listen to episode 25 on procrastination. Maybe we are not delegating enough because we are concerned about other people will do it to the standard that we think that it should be done. Nobody can do it as well as me. And linked to that, maybe we require people to do things to our standards and we catch them out if they don't meet that standard. You know, a home example might be, is there a perfect way to stack the dishwasher? Some people believe there is others not so sure. We also can have a lot of rules when we're struggling with perfectionism. These are sort of personal rules. For example, I have to make sure all my emails are perfect or I am a person who needs to be on time for meetings, and I feel shame if I'm late or I get my projects in on time, even if I have to stay up through the night doing them. And with all of this, we can also, I think, be pretending that we are okay. We can hold a level of perfectionism around being well happy, upbeat all the time, and not acknowledging those moments where we don't feel like that. Because the reality of life is that half the time we are not like that, or sometimes more. So, you can hear, there's so many places this can show up, and when it shows up, we can get really caught going round and round in circles, and we lose sight of the big picture. We lose sight of our overall impact. We're obsessed by getting something done, and we don't enjoy the journey. We don't enjoy that creation process because the outcome and getting it right is so important. Of course there is a fine balance between delivering something good and wanting it to be perfect, and I believe that one, doing it well and good enough would give us satisfaction, but perfect actually is never good enough, so it doesn't give us that satisfaction. So where we are headed here is to aim for 80%. Okay, 80% good enough. Should do the job. I've really had to learn to do this with the podcast I'm writing and creating an episode like this every two weeks, and it takes time. I have a deadline because we want to put the podcast up at the same time every week, and I've really had to learn that good enough is good enough and that I can't keep rerecording them, and that I just need to focus on what matters. So as long as I'm helping you or adding some value to your day, then that will work. I have to remind myself that it's 20 minutes that I can't share everything, but I still notice at times that I'm putting off doing it because I'm a bit worried about it being not good enough or feeling that it's not perfect. So I've actually learned to do something that Seth Godin calls ship it. That basically means you ship it out, you move it out, and you accept that it's going to be good enough. And in this case that some of this will hopefully resonate with some of you. So I spent quite a bit of time looking at how prevalent it is, but what can we do about it? I don't believe we have to live with it. I've certainly worked on it a lot myself since my guide friend pointed it out, and I think we can start to dial it back a little bit and maybe not make major changes, but make some small changes. And you can start this in a number of places. So you could start actually by just talking with a friend or a coach or a colleague, and being curious about where is perfectionism showing up in your life. And while you're doing that, it can be helpful to look for areas where it's actually serving you positively as well as the areas that it might be having a negative impact because, Something like perfectionism will be giving you some reward at times. Maybe your boss is so grateful that you put in the extra hours or for the incredibly high standard of your work, and so noticing and naming that can help you to acknowledge that it's there. It does serve you. At times. It may not be a great thing, but it does help you and soThe your journey at times. And then it's good to look at the downsides. We can begin to look at the areas where it might be holding us back like a project that we want to be perfect, or maybe we notice that we're staying longer in the office because the data isn't quite right on a spreadsheet. And then we can also begin to acknowledge the impact that's having. So those kinds of things might be on not going home on time. So we are not seeing our family. And that links to how we can shift this by making a connection to our values. So when we make a connection to what we value in our, in the whole of our lives, not just in our work, we can sometimes see ways to help us to let go of the perfectionism. So for example, if you hold a value as I hold that it's really important to help people learn and grow. We find it hard to hand over projects because, and to delegate, because we're concerned that they won't do it well enough. We can come back to our value and we can say, okay, if I'm not helping them learn to do this, if I'm not delegating it to to them, they won't learn and grow. I'm not living by my values, so I'm gonna have to learn to accept my own discomfort, my own accepting. I don't think it will be good enough. It won't be to my standard and help them coach them through it and learn to live with it being different and not how I would've done it. Another thing we can do is to acknowledge the link between our perfectionism and our confidence and people pleasing. And then we could look at that a bit. We can think about, what am I trying to prove here? What am I afraid of? Am I concerned about judgment from others? And many times I've referred to Kristen Neff's work on self-compassion, and I think that helps us here. She talks about mindfulness being a human and being kind to ourselves as the core components of self-compassion. So if we think about that here, we can be mindful and notice the self-talk, notice the stories, we can see that we're human and therefore not perfect by the very nature of being human. And then we can be kind to ourselves. And I think one thing we can do here, Talk about things being messy and that messy is okay because if I'm imperfect, if I'm doing things imperfectly, I am having to accept myself and my limitations. I'm accepting that I'm human and messy. That doing things perfectly isn't possible. And Brene Brown talks about letting go of who we think we should be. And this is about using self-compassion to come into an acceptance of who we are, so we can be open to seeing things messy, seeing that they will be messy and that we'll get it wrong. And it's better to do that than to hide. We can also make room for that discomfort that comes with this feeling of, oh, it's not perfect, and learn to live with that a bit. We, I think when we're not perfect, when things are not going well, we can be prone to kind of rumination and worry and turning things over, and that distracts us from acknowledging that actually we feel uncomfortable about it. I once heard A B B, C news reader share that after a three hour broadcast live on air, she wouldn't come off remembering the two hours and 59 minutes that went well. She would focus on the one minute where she believed she wasn't perfect. She would then ruminate over it and think, oh, I wish I'd done this. And what if that? But it was such a small part of a three hour live on air broadcast, and this is so prevalent. So one way of dealing with this is to learn to see that this is just our mind. It is trying to trick us into believing that it's possible to be perfect so we can acknowledge what's happened. Notice those. Uncomfortable feelings of shame or embarrassment or worry, and then let them dissolve. Just let them go because we actually, in hindsight, can't do much about it. And linked to this, when we make mistakes, which can really trigger a terrible feeling, if we're in perfectionism mode, then we can look for learning instead of self-blame and criticism and is good. I think to have a strategy for mistakes for when you make them. So what I do is I, it's very simple. I write down on the left what went well and on the right, what didn't go well, and then I stand back and see it in context. I can see the good and the bad, but usually the bad is smaller and less significant than I believe. And actually, even if something did go badly wrong, writing it down and looking it on paper, acknowledging the feelings about it, and then letting them go is critical. The ruminating in the worry and the chewing over it isn't going to help us in our work. If you are being given a piece of work, so this is preempting perfectionism, and you can see yourself heading towards it. You could ask the person who's given it to you, what good enough would look like. So you might acknowledge, oh, I'm noticing this might take me a very long time because I want it to be perfect. If I was to give it to you 80% good enough, what would that be? What would be acceptable? And the same thing with delegation. Actually, if you're struggling with delegation because of perfectionism, have a conversation with a person you are delegating with. Acknowledge your high standards, perhaps impossible to meet'cause that's the nature of perfectionism. And then work together to identify what good enough might be and give your colleague permission to say, if you, they see you seeking perfect and not good enough. So there's so much we can do, I believe, to be curious about our perfectionism and to look at where it's serving us or where it might be holding us back. And then to say, okay, if I don't have to be perfect, what are the small wins that I can get? How can I be good enough? So I wish you well on this journey. I really recommend Brene Brown's book, the Gifts of Imperfection, and I will put a link to this in the show notes and I'd love to hear how you get on with this. So please, uh, send a message or comment on Instagram or on my LinkedIn. Overcoming Perfectionism at Work