Embracing perfectionism: a confession

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Agile Coach at Agile Coaching AR
Life lover and learner. Enterprise agile coach. Casual gamer. Creative Change Agent.
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Embrace the glorious mess that you are. Elizabeth Gilbert

The confession

I had always been embarrassed to fail, specially having to admit making mistakes, often putting myself into a no-go position, and always pointing out the right way to do things. I had set extremely high standards for me through all my life and I was very hard on myself when I didn’t achieve my goals, sometimes I was depressed because I needed things to be perfect. Great was not enough.
So decided to make a confession right now: I am embracing perfectionism, I love the perfectionist in me. I have already recognized it after the fear of failing was making itself noticeable through my emotions and health. I had to look myself in the mirror and accept I am a human being and therefore I will make mistakes from now and then.
The best part of it: those failures are part of my learnings.

Is that bad to be a perfectionist?

There are some authors who consider perfectionism as an enemy who has to be overcomed, conquered or destroyed. I don’t think so. I believe if you can monitor your state of mind without affecting your emotions and the way you react it is not a bad thing; you can integrate the best side of it.
Having considered failure my worst enemy all my life, I had to step up from a fixed to a growth mindset in the pursuit of excellence. I realized perfectionism is a blocker for the mind, a demeanor and stressful issue which usually tends to lead us to procrastination. When you are doing something we love there is no stress but joy and a strong desire to excel at it. There is a huge difference!

How can you embrace it? A real life sample 

When I was a little girl I used to draw, I even went to a “Little Kids Drawing Club” in town and participated in the annual exposition at school. As an adult those skills seemed to be completely gone away. I was even afraid of writing on a board, making up the excuse “I have a horrible lettering”.
I decided to resume drawing again last December. So far I have created more than 20 drawings (check for more here) and plan to keep on this activity. I have only paused drawing when traveling for work (maybe next time I will take my pad and crayons with me).
Here are the steps I follow every time the perfectionist girl inside me comes back, and some powerful questions that will be useful for you:

1. First, be aware

When I finally accepted I am a perfectionist I was able to let it go. Does it mean I am no longer a meticulous person? Nope. It means I am aware of it and can take (most of the times) inmediate action on it. Don’t blame yourself, just be conscious, pay attention, observe.
Powerful questions:
  • When does this happen?
  • What am I thinking? 

 2. Focus on what you can accomplish right now and build up on that

Understand that, specially if you are starting a new activity, it will be faulty. You are learning, so take notes, descale the situation and as if it was a tasty cake, eat chunk by chunk enjoying the process.
It is key to set goals and finding your internal motivations to keep up the work and not quitting.
In my case the goals and motivators have been decomposed into:
  • short term: chill out; doodling; ease up hand movements
  • mid term: improve my ability to focus
  • long term: enhance my creativity; increase my cognitive skills

Powerful questions:

  • What I am doing this for?
  • What do I want to accomplish in a the short and long run?

3. Set your own standard of quality (good enough)

Setting rules and conditions for the product/service (or thing) you are creating will help you to measure it against to determine when it’s done. Awareness about your perfectionism will help you understand your actions and define the rules (which may vary in time, they are not carved in stone).
My drawings are done when:
  • the whole page has been completely filled up or I simply like it
  • it doesn’t have to be perfect
  • if there is something I don’t like it stays anyway (inkspots and scuffs)
  • a random color is selected when in doubt

Powerful questions:

  • What would happen if I couldn’t finish it?
  • If I had only five minutes to get it done, what would I do first?

4. Compare only to yourself

Don’t compare to others. Of course you will be different. Of course you will have your own way. Of course you can learn from others. But you won’t be any like those people. You are unique, have your own style, your own way.
Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid. Albert Einstein
Measure your progress by comparing yourself to yourself. You can set a time frame to look back to your work and observe them without judging the work or you. Focus only on the positive progress and how can you improve it.
If you want to take it to a professional level you may want to ask for help or take a course until you are confident enough to work alone.
For example:
Taking a look at all my drawings I can say I loved the ones with crayons, so I will continue to use crayons for painting, and let go my imagination. It is not my intention to be a painter, so it is perfect the way it is right now.

Powerful questions:

  • What have I learnt since I started?
  • What could I try next?

5. Care less about what others think

I used to ask others their opinions on what I was to decide. Some of those people didn’t care about the situation, or I really didn’t like them; however I felt compelled to ask before doing something, to seek validation. I now realize whatever we do will be liked, despised or ignored. There is nothing personal in that, it is just a matter of preference and it is ok. We are lucky to live in a world where diversity is nurturing our lives.

Powerful questions:

  • Who I want to impress?
  • Why?

6. Accept you are a human being

It’s ok to fail, to be wrong, make mistakes, not to be the best of the whole world at something. Face, accept and embrace your fears. Let go off control, relax and start the uncomplicated flexible path to learning.
And remember: You are already perfect!

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