The pursuit of Perfection – Advaita Shyam Sunder

As you get out of the meeting with your client, you are bubbling with ideas. You commit to a deadline for some kind of deliverable to move the project forward. In your mind, at that moment, it’s all crystal clear and you can’t wait to get the ball rolling. But as the date looms closer, something changes. You want it to be amazing, fantastic, flawless. Even though your vision is clear and your ideas solid, you keep delaying the start of the process.

The excitement that you initially felt begins to feel like dread.“I have to do more research, gather more information, find more sources of inspiration before I start…I’ll get started tomorrow,” you tell yourself. Finally, it’s the day before the deadline. You’re kicking yourself for putting the project off and your sense of self flags along with your motivation to act. On the due date, you’re not only beating yourself up for potentially messing up a big opportunity, but also panicking and stressing about putting it all together by the end of the day.

Does the scenario seem familiar? Do you feel that you aren’t good enough no matter what you accomplish? Research shows that extreme perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it often leads to the path to depression, anxiety, addiction and life paralysis. Setting a high bar for yourself may be an aspirational thing to do, but if it prevents you from
being your best, you may need to rethink on your style of functioning.

Not that good 

If you are being overly meticulous at work, it can hamper rather than aid your functioning. Here’s how:

You tend to fuss over unfounded problems. Even if you have finished a task, you linger on to find new things to improve on. This lingering process can start as a 10-minute exercise and before you realise it, it extends to 30 minutes or an hour. You fail to see the importance of doing things that lead to results in the realm of your responsibilities.

You do things because they appear like a ‘worthwhile addition’, without rationally considering whether they’re really necessary. Many a time, not only do the additions add no value, but they may even ruin things. You may over-clutter a presentation with unneeded details; jam-pack a layout with too many things.

Often, you don’t even realise that you’re doing something out of the need to appease others. It may be a case of fractured self-worth. Knowingly or unknowingly, most of your effort goes in trying to get others’ approval.

If freedom were a superhero, perfectionism would be its arch enemy. Your perfectionist tendencies hold you hostage and can be so relentless that you may find yourself remembering every mishap you have ever made. This can be counterproductive. You need to have the freedom to mess things up and learn from them, without the mistakes defining you.

Change the pattern

What does ‘perfect’ mean, anyway? An awfully vague concept, it wears the uniform of self-righteousness and nobility. It holds the promise of a reward if you achieve it. But is it always achievable? The quest for perfection often gives birth to a certain kind of rigidity; it can’t really adapt to anything. There’s a huge relief in letting go of perfection. It can be a long process, though. Along the way, you’ll find increasing satisfaction and a sense of fulfillment.

However, to unlearn the lessons of perfection, you need to start with the basics. Here go a few tips to help you get started:

Ground yourself in what’s possible

instead of carrying on the deadly weight of super-high, unachievable standards. Do your best without giving up on things that are important to you — time with family, physical and mental health, leisure time. Tell yourself, “this is what I can do right now and I’m doing it.”

Break down larger tasks into manageable steps. On a chart, write down the goal or deadline and work towards it. Decide in advance how much time you will spend on a task. Remember the goal is to complete the task, not to make it perfect.

As Brené Brown writes in her book, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, “Healthy striving is self-focused: ‘How can I improve?’ Perfectionism is other-focused: ‘What will they think?’” Understand this difference.

Making mistakes is inevitable as human beings are fallible. To accept this is to ease your reliance on perfectionism. And you’ll, perhaps, enjoy the process as much as the end results.


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