Overachiever Myth #3: Perfection Is Attainable

When I got out of the Navy, I went back to college.  I went to college right out of high school, but I was more interested in the experience (ahem, the party) vs going to class so I didn’t do so great. This time I was on a mission to prove how smart I was. My goal was a 4.0. I considered anything less a failure.

It was all going according to plan until I had to take Philosophy. I had already aced all my computer science and math courses, so I figured another A was in the bag. Apparently my professor didn’t appreciate my sense of pragmatism that I always brought to my essays and I ended up with an A-. 

I distinctly remember calling my husband in tears. I was distraught and can recall how I felt like such a failure because I no longer had a 4.0 GPA. He couldn’t understand what in the heck was happening and why I was upset. I even met with the professor and asked for extra credit to bring my grade back to an A. He looked at me like I had two heads and told me it would “make my transcript look more credible”.

I look back on this now and can see how believing that perfection was attainable prompted my unreasonable reaction. I did not see how an A- was good enough even though I held many other roles at the time: wife, mother, and daughter.

Perfection is a story we make up, my friends. Everyone’s interpretation is different so therefore it is a thought.  The good news is that thoughts can be altered and replaced.

You might be thinking, but Holly, I have a very high standard for myself.  I get that, but if your standards are causing nervous system reactions or stopping you from doing something you really want to do then that’s not very helpful, is it?

There is a difference between doing the best you can and searching for perfection.

Perfection is a pressure cooker and is chased after as a way to not be judged by others or to not disappoint others. Operating from a sense of pressure does not end up with optimal results. It ends in less satisfaction and not being able to relax or have fun. It takes up a lot of mental energy because you are always either judging yourself or figuring out how to achieve some unrealistic expectation. Can you say burnout?

If you can answer yes to any of the following, you are displaying perfectionistic programming:

  • I have an all or nothing mindset; I either do it perfect or not at all
  • I have a hard time completing projects because my standards haven’t been met
  • I have no sense of humor when doing something I’m not good at
  • I am preoccupied with details, rules and schedules
  • I don’t like to delegate because I like it done my way
  • I focus on what’s wrong all the time
  • I think that failure is something to be avoided at all costs
  • I over-argue that my way is the right or only way
  • I think that small things are not enough

Why do we do this? Somewhere in our past, this habit was programmed into our brain. It became a belief; i.e. our default programming. 

You can use this 3 step process to upgrade your default programming.

  • Become aware. Catch yourself when you are expecting perfection from yourself or others.
  • Interrupt. Start asking yourself questions like “is this helpful?” or “is this stopping me?”.
  • Redirect. Talk yourself down off the perfection train with thoughts like “there’s no such thing as perfect” or “good enough is just fine”. I especially love to think about things in terms of the 80-20 rule…how can I get to 80%.

No one is perfect, my friends. Shooting for perfection puts you under an enormous amount of unnecessary pressure.  Decide right now that you will work on this. I guarantee you will start to let go of the pressure you are feeling and open yourself up to more possibilities.

Want to discuss this further? Feel free to email me at ho***@ho*********.com.