How To Be An Imperfectionist Like A Boss A.K.A Stop Letting Perfectionism Hold You Back

In all my time as a practising therapist, I've seen plenty of clients wrestling with this thing — it's like a recurring theme that keeps popping up in conversations. Some get stuck in perpetual procrastination, leaving tasks forever unfinished; while others feel paralyzed, and find themselves unable to take any action at all. Take this one client, a person who is always meticulously planning every detail of their project, aiming for flawless execution. What does all that fixation lead to? Missed deadlines and a feeling of dissatisfaction, which only gets in the way of their progress (find me a greater paradox, I’ll wait).

Next up, I have another client who's always second-guessing themself - afraid to try anything new - scared that any little mistake will mean near-certain failure. That fear freezes them up every single time, stopping them from moving forward in anything. This thing is all about striving for perfection, isn't it? Let’s back it up with some scientific data.

According to research, here is what being a perfectionist looks like: 

  1. Being constantly disappointed, either because you can't meet your sky-high standards or because you think they're not living up to what others expect of you. 

  1. You feel that you are constantly falling behind others' expectations. This is going to feel extremely exhausting and defeating. 

  1. Also, because of this constant pressure to be flawless, you sometimes act in ways that make you feel rejected or actually get rejected by the people around you. This can be incredibly isolating. 

  1. Plus, your obsession with being perfect often means you struggle to build strong friendships or connections with others.

Ironically, perfection is the opposite of striving to do our best or working towards excellence. You might need some clarification at this point. After all, and especially according to most people, isn’t perfection supposed to be or be doing the best you can? 

Let’s get it straight, that notion is rather wrong. 

Doing the best you can or healthy striving comes from within (‘How can I improve?’) but perfection is externally motivated by a simple question that has been used to shame people for centuries - ‘Log kya kahenge?’ or ‘What will people think?’ Perfection isn’t improving oneself, but at its heart, it is looking for validation, approval, & acceptance.  

I understand this might also sound paradoxical, but perfection often stands as a major roadblock on the path to mastery. Research shows that reaching mastery demands curiosity and seeing failures and mistakes as opportunities for learning. Perfection is a curiosity killer by making us feel like we have to know everything, or else we're not good enough (or worse, worthless). It tells us that our screw-ups are personal flaws, so we either avoid trying new things or find it hard to get back up when we inevitably stumble.

Recognizing the distinction between striving for excellence and chasing perfection is crucial. Perfection doesn't just hinder achievement; it paves the way for feelings of depression, anxiety, addiction - and what Brene Brown aptly terms - "life paralysis." This paralysis signifies missed opportunities and abandoned dreams, stemming from the fear of failure and the relentless pursuit of flawlessness. It's a daunting prospect to take any risks when you're a perfectionist, constantly worrying about your self-worth going to ruin and avoiding disappointing others.

In her book "The Gifts of Imperfection," Brene Brown characterises perfectionism as an addictive and self-destructive belief system that convinces us: "If I can just be perfect, then I won't have to deal with the pain of shame, judgement, or criticism." She explains it is self-destructive because perfectionism is impossible to reach. Also, it is about perception and we can’t control the perception of other people no matter how hard we try. Secondly, it is addictive because we will certainly experience shame, judgement, or criticism, and when we do we think that we felt these things because we weren’t perfect enough. It’s an addictive cycle. Feeling shamed, blamed, criticised, judged and the fear of these feelings are human experiences, we will all feel them.

There is no running away.  

The journey from perfectionism to embracing imperfection is not merely a shift in mindset but a profound transformation of the self. It's a recognition that true growth and fulfilment stem not from the pursuit of flawlessness, but from the courage to embrace vulnerability and learn from setbacks. Perfectionism may offer the illusion of control and acceptance, but it ultimately traps us in a cycle of self-doubt and fear. Embracing imperfection, on the other hand, opens the door to getting better at what you are passionate about, genuine connection, and resilience. 

It's a journey that leads us from the confines of perfectionism to the boundless possibilities of living wholeheartedly.

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Zahra Diwan

Zahra has over 4 years of experience working with clients within the therapeutic framework. She works extensively with young adults, and maintains a diary on Things That Help Us which is collation of insights she gains in therapy.

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