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From the Oxford dictionary: 
Perfectionist:  a person who refuses to accept any standard short of perfection.

The definition of perfectionist implies that your life is perfect if you are a perfectionist.  That is not the case.  Perfectionists are often the worst procrastinators, avoiders, and the most self-critical.  It’s not much fun.

If you are a perfectionist, you likely avoid, worry about, and criticize your own work.  And you suffer. 

Take it from me, a recovering perfectionist. These are my clues that perfectionism is in control.  When I: 

  • Don’t start work because I don’t have enough time (to do it perfectly.)
  • Delay trying something new because I think there is more to learn (to get it perfectly)
  • Create a piece of work, review it, look at it, edit it, rewrite it, reread it, and then put it in a folder for later – but never put it out in the world because it isn’t quite perfect.
  • Share my work, but then I look at it repeatedly and notice all of the little imperfections (telling myself it isn’t perfect).  

The tricky part is that perfectionists are often quite good at getting things done.  Others don’t notice the problem because we take urgent action when facing a deadline or when someone might see that it isn’t done yet.  We take action when we HAVE to, and we do it as perfectly as we can in the time we have left.

The result?

Perfectionism creates the opposite of perfect for us.  It creates self-suffering.

So what is a perfectionist to do?  Let’s harness the tendency and play a little reverse psychology on ourselves. It is helpful to harness my natural tendency to want to do things perfectly.  But I change my focus on what I am perfecting.

I am perfecting making mistakes.  

To help myself, I need to stop delaying work until “I know enough,” “I have enough time,” or “It looks good enough.”  I know I want to do things perfectly.  So I will stop delaying and

let go of perfectionism – perfectly.

What does this look like?  

  • When I think, “I don’t have enough time to do that perfectly,” – I will tell myself to do as much imperfectly as possible in the time I have.
  • When I delay trying something because I haven’t learned enough, I tell myself that I will go ahead and try it to see how many mistakes I can make and what I can learn.
  • When I find myself re-reading, reviewing, revising, and hiding, I challenge myself to go ahead and put the work out into the world to practice seeing what happens when the job could be better. (hint- very few people notice)
  • If I create something and find myself looking it over repeatedly and criticizing it, I notice that I am making a mistake when I berate myself, and then I look for three things I LIKE about what I produce.  Then I close it out and don’t look back. 

As a perfectionist, I strive to be imperfect, making perfect mistakes early and often. 

I have been practicing this for a few years now and will tell you that it’s very freeing. 

If you are a perfectionist, the next time you delay, remind yourself that it is a mistake, and then go ahead and move forward.

do the work imperfectly.

Go for B- work

Get it 70% done

Create your “sloppy copy.”

Go ahead and make perfect mistakes.  And celebrate each one.

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