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Overcoming Perfectionism [Dream Job Coaching]

Fulfillment @ Work

   February 9, 2005
   ISSN: 1533-3906


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Overcoming Perfectionism
by Joel Garfinkle

One of Aesop’s most memorable fables involves a perfection-seeking deer and an opportunistic hunter. While admiring his reflection in a pool, the deer said to himself, “Ah, where can one see such beautifully proportioned horns with such antlers as these? However, my slim and unsightly legs are not worthy to bear such a glorious crown.”

As the deer continued to dwell on his so-called “imperfection,” a hunter took advantage of the situation and fired an arrow in his direction. Ironically, the deer bounded perfectly to safety on the very legs that he had viewed as unworthy.

Much like Aesop's self-critical deer, many people are unable to see the big picture and identify the passionate work that could lead to their dream career because they, too, are blinded by the unattainable ideal of absolute perfectionism.

They can't choose the best career path when perfectionism is running the show because every option seems equal and nothing appears to be the right course of action. They tend to spend a lot of time and effort making sure each decision is just right. If the pressure gets to be too intense, they avoid making a decision altogether, settling for the status quo instead of moving toward a truly fulfilling career.

When I ask my perfection-seeking clients about their innate talents or gifts, they are unable to respond in a way that fully represents them because they are, of course, looking for the most perfect answer. When you hold yourself to a standard of perfection, it’s almost impossible to know what your natural gifts truly are.

This standard of perfection has nothing to do with the real you. Instead, it compares you to family members, friends, and society and forces you to keep up with the image you think they represent. You don't allow yourself to explore, think, feel, and touch your own inner self. Like a deer caught in headlights, you become mesmerized by the desire to be what perfection wants you to be.

When you constantly project an image that doesn’t reflect who you are, you begin to develop a deep level of doubt that grows until it becomes almost impossible to recognize the person behind this self-imposed wall of perfection. But the person inside -- the real you -- wants to find work that aligns to your natural talents.

Fortunately, there are ways to conquer perfectionism and put the real you in charge of your career. Here are 10 of them:

1. It’s a matter of life and death.

Increase your sense of urgency by viewing each career decision with a “life or death” mentality. In other words, “If you had to make a decision your life depended on (such as the deer in Aesop’s fable), what would you do?”

2. Whatever happens, happens.

Focus on being more accepting and pleased with any potential outcome from your decisions. As long as you remain overwhelmingly concerned about a negative or unhelpful outcome, you’ll never want to make a decision. On the other hand, if you become ok with whatever happens, you’ll be much more able to make a decision. What you are actually doing is lowering the amount of weight being placed on having the most perfect outcome.

3. It’s ok to be ok with the 2nd best outcome.

Don’t always try for the most perfect and best possible outcome from any situation. Instead, allow yourself to settle for 2nd best.

4. Lower your expectations.

All perfectionists set expectations that are way too high, which in turn causes them to always shoot for the moon with no forgiveness when they fall short. If you lower your expectations, you’ll be much more able to accept an outcome or decision much more quickly and with less stress. Think about how free you would feel if you lowered the expectations and allowed yourself to make a variety of choices for every decision. Eliminating unrealistic expectations gives any choice you make the space to be known and followed through upon.

5. Not all decisions have consequences.

Convince yourself that you won’t be wrong by making that decision. Most decisions made by perfectionists have the expectation that there is only one “perfect” decision. Again, removing this unrealistic expectation that you will be wrong allows for complete freedom of choice without any consequences for failure. You now have no pressure when you make a decision without consequences. Another motivation question you could ask yourself is, “If I knew I would not be wrong, what would I do?”

6. Recognize that perfection is not necessarily the right answer.

Once you make the choice, be ok when you don’t make the perfect choice. Realize that everything is happening for a reason and the outcome caused due to the choice is exactly what needed to happen. It’s about learning how to not get exactly what you want.

7. Your gut knows best. Just go with your gut and the first decision that comes to you, even if it feels like guessing.

It is better to move forward with a quick decision than it is to think about it too much, which allows doubt and the desire for perfection to dominate your thought process. This is where most people get stuck and unable to move forward. As a recent client said, “It is better to go with a less than ideal option than not go at all.”

8. Let experience be your guide.

Move away from perfectionism and focus on your actual experiences that you have had. Thus, you’ll be able to be in touch with the truth of your actual experience and let this drive your thinking, instead of your thoughts being driven by perfection.

9. Don’t look back.

Once you make a decision, immediately move to your first step and take action to move the decision forward. You will have a tremendous amount of doubt and the longer you wait to move forward, the bigger the doubt will become that you made the wrong decision. The greatest fear of a perfectionist is that they might make the wrong decision, so the quick movement into action helps temper the doubt.

10. Finally, listen to your inner voice.

Get in touch with your own personal inner voice and what you know to be the truth inside of you. As you start to listen to your inner voice, you will inevitably get better at making decisions. Remember, even if you don’t hear it you still need to proceed with making a choice. Even if it is the wrong decision, this will lead to more confidence in the long run.

There comes a time in each of our lives when we must make a leap of faith in order to avoid a scenario where even the perfect decision becomes the wrong one because it has come too late. No matter what, never let the myth of absolute perfection become an excuse for inaction.


"I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you. We are in charge of our Attitudes."
-- Charles Swindoll

"Hide not your talents. They for use were made. What's a sundial in the shade."
-- Benjamin Franklin

"There's no scarcity of opportunity to make a living at what you love. There is only a scarcity of resolve to make it happen."
-- Wayne Dyer


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