The different kinds of perfectionism
Here’s mine. What kind is yours?
This article is cross-posted from my weekly newsletter, The Sunday Soother, a newsletter about clarity, intention, and useful tips for creating more meaning in your life that goes out every Sunday morning. Subscribe here. I am also a personal development strategist and coach working to help people regain their confidence and move past impostor syndrome. You can learn more about working with me here.
Happy Sunday, friends. I’m so thrilled that on my podcast today, Madeleine Dore of Extraordinary Routines joins me to talk about creativity, morning pages (have you joined the 30-day challenge yet? We start tomorrow!), vulnerability, and perfectionism.
I so enjoyed my conversation with Madeleine, especially the spot where we dug into our own issues with perfectionism in our work. This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot as I now work for myself and now set my own markers for success — and feel a little lost in that doing so (as I wrote about here).
True story: For a long time I didn’t think I was a perfectionist.
I think this was because I had a narrow understanding of what perfectionism looked like. To me, it meant the person who would obsessively review their work for typos or errors before it was allowed to be put into the world. Their product had to be as close to perfect as possible in their mind’s eye, and free of mistakes, and pristine.
I have no issues with putting things with typos out into this world. (As readers of this newsletter have probably noticed.) Once I’ve decided to do something, I go for it full-fledged and hit publish as quick as I can. I get impatient. I don’t want to copy edit or review. I just want my work out there.
Over the past few years, I’ve come to admit to myself that I actually am a raging perfectionist. It’s just taken a different flavor.
I’m the kind of perfectionist who, for a long time, wouldn’t do anything at all — I’m talking, cook a recipe, play a game, start a project — unless she could be absolutely guaranteed of success.
Some perfectionists wince when they catch an error in their work, but they’ve put the work out there and are proud of it.
There was a long time when I wouldn’t even try.
I wouldn’t throw dinner parties because I didn’t think I could cook the best meal ever. I wouldn’t start a podcast because I didn’t think it would be immediately listened to by thousands of people. I wouldn’t write a blog post because I didn’t think enough people would read it.
As I realized this more and more, I came to call this my shadow side of perfectionism. And it was quite particular to me and my issues so it presented differently in the world. But it was still perfectionism.
Those of us who struggle with perfectionism might actually each experience it and present it completely differently in the world.
Why is this?
For me, something knotted together when I read this from Brene Brown:
“We struggle with perfectionism in areas where we feel most vulnerable to shame.”
I think for me, my shadow side of perfectionism is afraid of not being validated. Of not being seen. Of not being acknowledged.
That’s why my flavor of perfectionism is related to needing to be “the best.” If I cook the “best” meal, or write the “best” newsletter, or get the most readers — something in me is soothed. All the better if those can be guaranteed ahead of time.
Well. Hrm. What an absolutely cool, chill way to live, huh?
Luckily, I’ve moved away from that form of perfectionism the past few years and have been able to understand that both myself and my work have value regardless of how many people see it or praise it.
It wasn’t an easy journey, though, and I still struggle with it today.
Something that accelerated me loosening my grip on my form of perfectionism was Morning Pages.
“I’m supposed to write three pages of stuff and… nobody is ever going to see it?” My validation-needing brain was baffled.
“If you’re not going to be praised for it, what’s the point?” my shadow perfectionist wondered.
Well, as I’ve written (and as you’ll discover if you join the 30 day morning pages challenge), you’ll pretty quickly discover that point. (The point is you have a lot to say, it matters, and it’s worth doing, plus some other stuff you’ll find along the way.)
So today I encourage you to think: if you struggle with perfectionism, what flavor does it take on? What shame might your perfectionistic tendencies might be trying to protect?
Fear of mistakes?
Fear of success?
Fear of being seen?
Fear of not getting praise?
Fear of not being “the best”?
Here’s another quote from Brown that really got my attention: “When you are trying to be perfect at everything, perfectionism is driving; shame is riding shotgun and fear is the annoying backseat driver.”
Here’s hoping all of us perfectionists out there can start taking back the wheel.