Ok. So let’s be honest right up front. No matter how I start this BLOG post off I will shuffle half a dozen more ideas around in my head and even after this is written I will critique it and ultimately decide that one of the other ideas was probably better. The chatter in my head cheers ‚ “All or None and It’s Never Really Done” which sums up the constant processing that goes on in my mind. So WARNING: if you decide to keep reading you may end up running circles in my head with me.

When my friend first approached me about writing/speaking about perfectionism I was intrigued and immediately began scanning my memory files for content. Do I know enough? Am I the best fit? Have I taken a class in it? Who do I know that is a perfectionist? Wait do I even know what a perfectionist is? Am I a perfectionist?

Well, my daughter helped answer the last question. When I mentioned to her I would be speaking about overcoming perfectionism she said ‚ “How can you teach what you haven’t figured out?”

Ding! Ding! Ding!

Yes. I guess I must have a few “perfectionary” habits. After accepting these truths I explained to my daughter my teaching style. I either teach what I know or I research the topic and remain willing to receive input from my audience. (P.S. You are my audience and participation is welcomed!)

Perfection perception

I think it is important before we go any further for us to find common ground. When I discuss Perfection or Perfectionism I’m not specifically talking about physical perfection like the symmetry of size shape color or order. These external differences can be organized manipulated and demonstrated.

The perfectionism I am referencing can’t be seen it occurs in the mind. It is a constant seek and find mission within your brain to present the best most accurate information or solution every time the need arises. In its best form perfectionism provides sharpness clarity speedy responses and enhances with each new piece of information. At its worst, it can be debilitating and leave the thinker feeling abandoned like they are in a boat with one oar spinning in circles. Perfectionism also demands emotional perfection which I equate to balance and certainty under pressure. The difficulty though is that perfection is based on our own perceptions.

Here is where every single one of us will differ. Our perceptions come from our own life experiences. They are as unique as our fingerprints.

Example: If you grew up in the city and you loved it. You would decide the city is a perfect place to live. However, if I grew up in the country I may think the country is perfect. Uh Oh. Who’s right? Both of us! It is false to believe that everyone has the same definition of what perfection looks like. Yet to a perfectionist getting as close to “perfect” in everything is the goal.

This leads us to the next challenge for a “perfectionary” person: Developing Unrealistic Expectations. If I can not get into your head and know your “perfect” how can I achieve it? And, if we have determined that my perfect only applies to me how can I expect to become the perfect person for everyone? How can I measure my success at perfection? What scale determines absolute correctness when each person’s perception varies?

Here comes the truth.

Ready for it?

Perfection is impossible because it doesn’t exist!

Your idea of perfection and mine are not the same; therefore I can not predict or complete perfection based on a scale or expectation other than my own. Expecting people to “be perfect” and “get” that your perfect is unrealistic and unfair.

So my question to all of you is “What is the purpose of seeking perfection?

In my research and my life ultimately perfectionism is about control. The control of your own circumstances or trying to control others. Perfection becomes a way to reconcile our inability to foresee another person’s response so we “hyper-control” our own. It is easier to run after perfection than face the fear of failing others.

Perfectionism or Excellence

According to psychologist Don Hamachek in a 1978 study, there are two strains of perfectionism: normal and neurotic. “The normal perfectionist strives for high standards but doesn’t let that affect her happiness. She is satisfied in her pursuit. But the neurotic perfectionist is miserable‚ “her happiness is linked directly to the achievement or non-achievement of impossible goals. Because of this she often falls prey to obsessive tinkering and procrastination.”

I thought it is important to share that neurotic perfectionism is different than obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCD). Though an OCD sufferer has a compulsion that sometimes relieves an obsession she knows that that behavior is “wrong” and irrational. The neurotic perfectionist believes that in spite of the pain she’s enduring her perfectionism is helping her reach standards she otherwise couldn’t.

I have to tell you after I read the description above I started to wonder am I normal or neurotic? After taking several self-assessments and even a few FB quizzes (because we know how accurate they are) I’m relieved to tell you that I am not a 100% Perfectionist. (I am also not narcissistic or egotistical but I am a Hufflepuff). But seriously I personally don’t believe perfection is taught as much as modeled and probably a wee bit hard-wired. I have observed several people in my life especially family members that have set the standards in my mind for perfection… no, let’s call it excellence.

(i.e. Since we determined above that perfectionism isn’t possible and even potentially neurotic it’s time to choose a more accurate term. I’ve chosen excellence.)

My mother seemed to be a master at everything; cooking cleaning sewing gardening and listening. My father was a police officer and my gold standard for hard work effort dedication and loyalty. They have always carried themselves in humility and dedicated their lives to service to others. You’ve met people like them. They live every part of their lives with excellence as their purpose. So emulating my parents is not a bad decision – but here is where the danger lies in imitating others. When we try so hard to be like other people, we risk losing who we are or who we are meant to be. I may never be a great cook or rescue someone in trouble but my desire for excellence has given me an eye for design, a craving for teaching, and a passion for people. My brain churns out endless ideas which are great for marketing and my constant “what-ifing” may one day change the world or at least somebody’s world.

I’ve found that Bravery Over Perfection comes when you are willing to inspect your strengths and weaknesses. It’s the willingness to question what you believe and why consistently. It considers another person’s view as viable until proven or disproven. Bravery emerges when we embrace failure as taking that one daring step past fear and it’s when we recognize that excellence comes not in being flawless, but fearless.