Don’t deny it: You’re perfect!
And if you’re not perfect at everything, you certainly do try your hardest to dot every “i” and cross every “t,” which makes you a perfectionist, which makes you vulnerable to what could be a very big problem.
Or so says Tracy Dennis-Tiwary, Ph.D., in ” Perfectionists: Lowering Your Standards Can Improve Your Mental Health,” her recent article in The Washington Post.
“The standards to which perfectionists hold themselves are unrealistic, overly demanding, and often, impossible to achieve,” explains Dennis-Tiwary, a psychology and neuroscience professor. Even worse, “the relentless pursuit of flawlessness can lead to low self-worth, depressive and anxiety disorders, high stress in the face of failure and even suicidality.”
Now, I assume you don’t consider ending it all every time you bobble the ball on an assignment (though your manager may.) You may even feel that by trying to be perfect, your outcomes will be better than co-workers who don’t try at all.
That isn’t the way it works at work.
The fact is that the more effort you put in can negatively affect the work that comes out. “The quantity of effort can backfire, and when it does, we hit the point of diminishing returns,” our author explains. This is why “perfectionists counterintuitively turn out lower quality work than they’re actually capable of doing.”
This is interesting. If you’ve ever wondered why the people who do the worst work rise the highest in your company, now you know. While you’re straining to make everything you do perfectly flawless, they buzz through their work, accepting their blunders and bloopers. By producing work that is perfectly awful, they can use the time they save to schmooze and gossip, spreading rumors about what an anxious person you’ve become, and how it would be inhumane to promote you to a position with more responsibility.
One suggestion for curing your perfectionist tendencies is to become an “excellentist.” This is a person who has high standards, but does not beat themselves up when they don’t meet them. (For an excellent example of an excellentist, consider Nicolas Cage. If Nic were a perfectionist, he would have starred in “Raising Arizona” and never made another movie again. But because he was not bothered by failing to meet any standards at all, he went on to star in 3,647 more films. And how excellent is that?)
If you’ve been trying hard to be the best you can be, it’s time to change your ways. It won’t be easy. It’s difficult to change the attitude that got you an A+ in sandbox. Still, if you can lower your standards on one aspect of your life, you would be on the road to becoming perfect at being imperfect. Here are three steps to becoming the worst you can be, and loving it.
No. 1: Pick one upcoming activity that you tend to get perfectionist about.
For some people, this could be an activity required for their job, like making sales or analyzing data or writing reports. For you, it has to be lunch. Having a perfect lunch is the most important part of your day, and if you fail to reach your standard of luncheon perfection, it can ruin the next most important part of your day: naptime.
No. 2: Make a list of what perfect means to you.
For an excellentist lunch you have to leave early and come back late. For a perfectionist lunch, you must get out and come back without anyone in your office noticing you were gone.
You also must go to a restaurant that is extremely popular but never crowded. Your favorite dishes need to be on the menu, and no one asks if you want oat milk for your cappuccino. To accomplish all this represents true lunchtime perfection, as long as someone else picks up the check.
No. 3: Look at the list and pick something that you will allow to be less than perfect.
This is the hard part. You certainly are not going to give up leaving early, nor can you let a luncheon companion even hint that it would be reasonable to split the check. As for having oat milk, or almond milk or milk made from North Atlantic krill, that is not merely unacceptable, it’s a crime against nature — and cows.
Clearly, the one minor aspect of lunch for which you might reset your perfectionist tendencies is the part about coming back late.
It won’t be perfect, but you could consider not coming back at all.
Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at [email protected] To find out more about Bob Goldman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.