“Recovering Perfectionists” – Anyone you know?

Have you worked with anyone who has a perfectionist tendency?  Or are you a perfectionist? If so, how has it been to work with yourself?! Tiring, no? Always going the extra mile to make sure that things are perfect – and that no-one will be able to complain – right?

I’ve worked with several “recovering perfectionists” (smile) who wanted to lighten their load. They realize how difficult it is to maintain such a demanding level of performance; they struggle to categorize tasks into “must be perfect” and “darn good is also acceptable”. A few years ago I was at a potluck dinner, where one woman, Sue, brought a raspberry pie. It oozed red around the corners, so Sue complained that it wasn’t perfect. Could have fooled us – we thought it was fabulously delicious – so perfection was in the eye, or tastebuds, of the beholder!
When we go overboard in one direction or another, there is usually a story that we’re telling ourselves about that. For example, I may tell myself that I have to prove that I’ve been productive, given the amount of time I’ve spent working on a deliverable. I may not consider if my time was well-spent, or if the deliverable might have been fine with less time. Or we might think that being perfect gives us a certain edge over others, i.e. “If I don’t do it perfectly, I’ll lose my power.”

When I design curriculum for a workshop, I like to find cartoons or clip art that superbly convey a point I’m trying to make. I can spend hours (half-hours) looking for “the right image”.  I end up wasting a lot of time that would be better spent on other content. What I’ve discovered is that it’s often serendipity when I come across a great cartoon or image –  not the result of a long search.   You might ask: How does it serve me to go down the rabbit-hole of searching?   I might want to impress the audience, or, the image might be a crutch if I think the content won’t engage the audience.

In my coaching I work with my client to explore the story they are telling themselves. What does perfectionism stand for? What’s hiding behind that? There’s almost always an interesting story behind their behavior. Trying to change our behavior without understanding the underlying story is rarely effective – that’s why New Year’s Resolutions rarely work.

Raspberry pie anyone?!

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