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Perfection is an Illusion

Published on 23rd October 2019

Perfection is the enemy of progress.” – Winston Churchill

I know I'll probably get some static for saying this, but perfection is really a cover up for not fully showing up.

And I believe that I can say this boldly because I am a recovering perfectionist myself.

I remember clearly, when I was preparing to launch my coaching practice a few years ago, my perfectionism got in the way. While I studied, trained and quite frankly was guiding and advising people long before I even considered being a coach, I still struggled.

I’d manage to get caught in the perfection trap of wanting to study more and tried to get every detail of the business ‘right’ before launching. Truth be told, the real reason I kept stalling was due to feeling terrified of putting myself out there.

So many of us have brilliant ideas that can potentially impact the world, or talents that can touch the hearts of others. Instead of boldly taking the next step and sharing it, we convince ourselves that we need to get it right first; everything has to line up and everything must be perfect.

These are all delay and avoidance tactics we use, to justify why we won't step out and step up.

If you are shaking your head while reading this and you see these qualities in yourself, it's okay. Be kind to yourself but also be honest with yourself.

Perfectionism has the potential to keep us back, stunted and small.

Imagine if a pioneer like, Thomas Edison, never shared his creation of the light bulb with the world, because he felt that he needed to perfect it first, we may still be using candles and lanterns only.

I’m sure I speak for everyone when I say, that we all have a desire to produce great work and that’s a great attribute to possess. But the reality is, no one ever starts with a masterpiece, even those we consider masters weren't as great when they started but over time grew and honed their skills and abilities.

While some may boast of being a perfectionist, in my experience, this quality is usually grounded in fear. At the core of striving for perfection is the unacknowledged anxiety of being judged; doubt in one’s capabilities and our non-acceptance of self.

“The key to happiness is letting go of that idea of perfection.” – Debra Messing

If we observe nature, I believe that we get a clearer understanding of how life truly works. All of nature, including the birds, trees, animals, insects, etc. before they fully 'came into themselves', would have started somewhere.

For instance, the birds who we admire soaring majestically in the sky were once chicks, who would have fallen so many times before they learnt to fly. And the trees whose fruits we delight in, were once seedlings unable to bear fruit.

They all started somewhere, just like each of us must start somewhere, despite how messy, full of flaws and incomplete the 1st, 2nd, 3rd or even 4th draft is. But the more we work on it, the better we become.

For those of us who recognize this trait within ourselves, I know you are probably saying, easier said than done, especially because we have perfected the habit for so long. While I agree it takes time to change such an ingrained habit, it is very possibly.

If you are currently struggling with perfectionism, and you are frustrated by its limitations, here are 5 hacks I have personally used, to help me move forward:

1. Identify the beliefs that are driving the behavior. Our actions, choices and behaviors are all driven by our beliefs. Most perfectionist, tend to have limiting beliefs about showing up, being judged or not being good enough.

    These beliefs are generally grounded in past childhood experiences, which then fuels the pattern of compulsion.

    Once you are able to identify the core belief, you are then able to change it to a belief that is more serving and expansive. This then inevitably helps you to change the behavior.

    2. Challenge yourself to share your work or talent, even if you are not 100% satisfied with its quality. Share your work with friends, family or even on social media and be open to feedback. This is how we get better.

      The more you practice showing up, despite the nagging voice of perfectionism, the more showing up becomes your dominant state.

      3. Remind yourself of the joy you feel when you grow and expand. Whether we know it or not, we enjoy the journey of becoming. We delight in the idea of continuously improving and being better. Perfectionism, however, goes against this natural and necessary desire, as it is based on the notion of attaining an ideal state.

        I believe Dragos Rou said it best, when he stated, “Perfection is boring, getting better is where all the fun is.”

        4. Recognize the value of mistakes.The most valuable thing you can make is a mistake- you can’t learn anything from being perfect.”- Adam Osborne. 

        Mistakes are necessary and important to help us to develop our skills and deepen our insight and awareness.

        If we are afraid of making mistakes, by striving for perfection, we miss out the opportunity for growth and development.

        5. Do your best in each moment and let that be enough. When we give our best to an endeavor, our best is always evident in the outcome. This is regardless of whether you are just starting out or you are seasoned.

          When we give our best to what is before us, we can walk in confidence that no matter how it is received, we are satisfied with what we have done, and this is the most important thing.

          During the time I battled with the voice of perfection ringing in my head, just before I launched the business, one day, I happened to tune into a podcast hosted by Life Coach, Lewis Howe.

          In this podcast, Lewis spoke about the same topic of perfection. For the first time, I saw how my limiting habit was not only affecting me, but it also had the ability to affect others.

          Lewis said something extremely profound that day that changed my life forever. He stated that we often forget that our gifts, talents and abilities aren’t about us, rather it is about the people whose lives we are meant to touch and impact as a result of it.

          This was my game changer, I eventually got over myself and decided to launch the business and show up, despite how raw and incomplete I felt, because, it was no longer only about me, but about the people I was meant to serve.

          Something worth considering is, when we subject ourselves to the illusory notion of perfection, we don’t only hold ourselves back and deny ourselves of the joy of showing up, we also deny others and the world of our light.

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