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The False Gospel of Perfectionism

While we may not have been directly taught that perfectionism was a goal, the fear of making a mistake or messing up caused us to strive for perfectionism without even realizing it.

“Practice makes perfect…”
“Do it until you do it right…”
“Good is not good enough…”

HEARING THESE STATEMENTS repeated from childhood into adulthood, for many of us, has helped to underscore an expectation of perfection.

The idea that striving for perfection may be unhealthy or counterproductive is hard for many of us to accept. But, remember there is a stark difference between striving to be the best you can be, and striving to be perfect.

Being the best you can be means that you consistently put all of your heart into your efforts. Striving to be perfect means you don't allow room for mistakes and therefore are robbing yourself of a chance to grow.
In my field as a mental health professional we understand that the idea of perfectionism' can lead to serious challenges in life.

Perfectionism demands that an individual be without any error, it places unrealistic expectations on one's performance and it leads to emotionally damaging self-criticism. It also puts too much weight on the perceptions of others.

Lastly, and this is the one that really concerns meit leads to the person striving for perfectionism to be judgmental of others who don't always get it right.

Can we take a pause here? As leaders, I wonder if any of us can relate to that. I wonder if we ever find ourselves being judgmental of those who don't always get it right.

I believe, as leaders, albeit unintentionally, we perpetuate an idea that perfection is not only an expectation, but it's often presented as an unspoken mandate.  Even I use to see perfectionism as a badge of honor.

I now understand it is often an indication of hidden fear.

So what is the real truth about perfectionism? Instead of it pushing us forward, it actually holds us back. If we are going to be effective leaders, helping to grow and not control those

God has given us stewardship over, it would behoove us to understand the following three facts about perfectionism.


1. It Stifles Creativity

Being able to truly create and dream requires mental freedom. But perfectionism literally stifles your ability to be FREE! Who can be free when the threat of ridicule at a mistake hangs over your head? If you desire for you and your team to operate in freedom, consider scheduling time when all of you can create, dream-cast and perform without an expectation that it all has to be done right.

2. It Suffocates Confidence

While you or your team might long for perfectionism, it is illusive and you can never fully meet that standard. And so then what happens? Well over time you begin to subconsciously (or maybe even with full consciousness) beat yourself up for not being perfect. In order to limit the self-esteem draining impact of perfectionism, remind your team (and yourself) that what makes them amazing is not being perfectbut that they keep going and they keep trying despite not having all the answers, setbacks or even fear!

3. It Sabotages Growth

Although we've been taught (and if we are honest, sometimes we teach this) that demanding perfectionism will increase professional and or personal growth, it does the opposite. First of all it triggers extreme stress, and living with stress long-term has consequences.

Secondly, perfectionism hinders how we connect with others. Your friends, family, coworkers, and employees cannot measure up to your unspoken demands. You may think you aren't putting your pressures on other people but it happens often without you even trying too. You raise the bar so high that the people in your life just can't meet it.

Lastly, perfectionism sabotages growth because it often causes the person to be overly analytical and unable to go with the flow. It can cause you to miss opportunities and even deadlines because you refuse to move forward unless everything is perfect.

In order to stop the sabotage, get feedback from people you trust. Ask the people in your life to hold you accountable. Let them know you want to maintain your standard without limiting your ability to connect and produce.

While striving for excellence should be our norm, there is a difference between excellence and perfectionism. One leads us to be at the top of our game and the other causes us to be controlled by the game. Finding the right balance will set you and the people you are called to lead, free! 

ROBIN MAY is a licensed therapist and certified life coach. You can connect with her via most social media sites: @robinmayonline or via her website: www.robinmayonline.com.


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