Is your perfectionism holding you back (or is it your relationship to it)?

Is your perfectionism holding you back (or is it your relationship to it)?

Today, I want to talk about perfectionism. It’s one of those words that I used to use for a long time but now I’m not particularly fond of anymore. Why? Because it is not precise. And I love me some precise language. Perfectionism is one of those words that everyone kind of throws around even though it means a slightly different thing to every individual. Which creates an excellent setup for miscommunication and misunderstanding.

But more on my love of precise language some other day. Today, as I said, I want to talk about perfectionism despite my relationship to the word itself, because I feel it is one of the most common things people say is blocking their creativity. See how I phrased that? Perfectionism is one of the most common perceived creative blocks.

No, it’s not a virtue

When it comes to creative blocks, saying “I’m a perfectionist” can be a bit of a cop-out. You know that joke about how when you go to a job interview and they ask you about your biggest flaw, you need to say something that is officially a flaw but that will make you sound awesome to potential employers? Like, “oh, I’m a perfectionist”. Or, “I’m just such a workaholic”. Or something else along those lines? Yeah, like that. Many people who call themselves perfectionists (my former self included, mind you, I’m no better) say this with a hint of… pride. Gloating, even. There is a sense of superiority when it comes to considering yourself a perfectionist. But of course! You’re not like those basic normies, just striving to - what? Be normal? Be basic? Hell, no. You’re better than that. You, my friend, you are a perfectionist.

It reminds me of those people who complain/brag about how much overtime they did last week. Or the people who complain/brag about how overworked and exhausted they are. You know the kind. Hey, you might be one of them. If you are, no biggie. I got you. I used to be that too. Just keep on reading.

So this is already the first thing that’s worth noticing if you want to unpack your perfectionist behaviour. Ask yourself:

  • Do you consider perfectionism (whatever that word means to you) to be a flaw?
  • Do you see, really truly honestly, how it leads to frustration and exhaustion?
  • Or is there a part of you that is kind of proud of it?
  • Is there a part of you that likes being a perfectionist?
  • Is there a part of you that enjoys it?
  • That sees it as something that people will admire and perhaps even envy?
  • Is there a part of you that secretly - or not so secretly - believes that people who don’t want you to be a perfectionist really just want you to FAIL?
  • Because to this part of you, the only alternative to perfectionism is… failure?

I’ve listed a few options here but of course, only you know what your true relationship to perfectionism is. So it’s really up to you to reflect on that and figure it out. And let me remind you that you don’t have to answer any of these questions straight away. Just allow them to maybe open up some tabs in your brain. Let your subconsciousness ponder on them and do the rest.

The main thing to be aware of is that as long as there is a part of you that enjoys being a perfectionist and as long as you believe that part of you is correct, you will continue engaging in the same patterns of behaviour, emotions, and thoughts that you label as perfectionist. The same patterns that some other part of you perhaps knows are not really serving you (anymore).

So what is perfectionism?

That is not a heading. I mean, it is a heading. But it’s also a question, and it is not one I am going to answer. If you feel you are being blocked by perfectionism, and you want to overcome it, the first step is to deconstruct the very idea of perfectionism. Here, I’m not interested in a dictionary definition but rather your own view of it. Not only how you would define perfectionism but what it means to you in terms of your experience. How do you do perfectionism? What are some behaviours that you label as perfectionistic? How does that experience manifest in your daily life? What are the behavioural, emotional, and thought patterns that constitute perfectionism for you? Specifically and very concretely.

My advice would be to journal on that. Because while yes, in some contexts giving a group of behavioural and emotional patterns that seem to have something in common a label can be helpful. If you want to change those patterns though, it will only handicap you because labelling something contributes to constructing this idea of it. In other words, you will likely be missing trees for the forest.

What we want to do in order to change something is to deconstruct it. We need to see what it is made of, what are its elements. And not some vague wishy washy ideas of it. When we can pinpoint very concrete, dare I say materialistic, manifestations of this creative block, that’s when things start to become much clearer. That is when we are able to see where this behaviour actually comes from, how we engage in it, and where we can find opportunities to make small, yet effective and actual, changes to it.

Freebie: Journaling prompts

It all starts with awareness. And, as I have mentioned before, when it comes to practicing awareness, journaling is your best friend. Well, it can be. If you don’t know where to start, I have prepared a few prompts to get you started. Get them HERE. (And in case it doesn't work, please let me know. I am still a Webflow newbie and learning how things work around here.)

Before you go...

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And I will see you next week!

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