For a long time, I have denied being a perfectionist. There were so many things I could point to about me, my work, and my life, that were not perfect – so clearly…. I’m not a perfectionist. But I started to accept that I did have crazy, impossibly high standards for myself. The things that I did were never good enough. I even thought I had a good handle on it a couple years ago…and then I realized that I started to replace the label “perfect” with descriptors like “really strategic,” “really thought-through,” or other logical phrases that were hiding my desire for perfection.
I learned that perfectionists have a very harsh inner critic. This is the voice that tells you that what you do is not enough, that it could have been better. This is the voice that can always find the flaw in something, even when it went well, even by objective standards. Does this sound at all like you? If so, please read on….
This critic evolves from a place of self-protection. Most (if not all) perfectionists had one or more critical parents – a parent that could always find a way to improve on what their child did or said. A bar was set, a seemingly impossible bar, and nothing was ever “good enough.” Even the subtle message that we send a child who has made their bed. It is lumpy, and we say “good job” and then immediately we go to fix their lumpy work. We’ve just told them – “this was not good enough.”
We cannot be kinder to others than we are to ourselves. Perfectionists are very hard on themselves, and end up being very hard on the people around them. This is also a really difficult mindset to change. We often have an immunity to change our own mindset and behavior. The primary immunity to change for a perfectionist is that they can point to their long list of accomplishments and say “I got here and have had all this success because I have high standards for myself and others.” But the reality is that what got you here won’t get you there. To really elevate your performance as a leader, a shift is required. Some of the criticism that you have for others must be reigned in to maximize your ability to effectively get work done through other people.
And before you discard this completely – please note that criticism is not all bad. Criticism, especially when delivered with the right mindset, can absolutely help somebody improve. Read here about balancing criticism and praise. So please know: I’m not advocating that you give up striving for excellence. My invitation to you is to recognize how your tendency to be overly critical is a strength taken “too far” – and it has damaging effects.
Speaking of praise – when is the last time you gave somebody specific praise for work they did? Are you struggling to remember? Are you now justifying the fact that you didn’t praise the work because it had errors (i.e., it wasn’t perfect)? I’ve definitely had that experience. I would think about the way somebody handled a situation, and because I could quickly, without even really thinking, identify 3 things I would do differently, it became harder for me to identify the things they did well. Even when, in reality, people do far more things well than they do poorly.
For additional perspective, and to learn how to be kinder to yourself (which enables you to be kinder to others), read this article on “How to Silence your Inner Critic and Get Over Your Perfectionism.”
Think about how other people experience you. Might this be an article (guidance for people that work for a Perfectionist Boss that your employees look up to learn how to cope with your behavior as a boss?