Woe Is Me! “I’m Tired of Giving My Best. How Do I Stop Being a Perfectionist?”
Woe Is Me! is a series in which The Swaddle team indulges your pity party with advice you’ll probably ignore.
“I am a perfectionist, but this sometimes leads me to procrastinate. There was a time when I never took anything seriously and I suffered; now I am extremely passionate about what I am doing. But I am also scared if I don’t give my absolute best, I will fail. How to stop expecting perfection in everything I do?”
— How to expect less
AS: I used to work in the same way — in fact, I still do sometimes. So, I can understand where you’re coming from. We know that nothing we produce can be absolutely “perfect,” but that doesn’t stop us from trying to make it so, even till the very last minute. In my experience, it has helped to make my work deadline-oriented.
Look at it this way — in the bigger picture, setting and valuing deadlines is also a step towards being our best, not just in terms of the work product, but in terms of how easy/reliable we are to work with. This is a tad philosophical, but sometimes it can also help to look at your experiences as if they were the plot of a novel. Would the story not be more wholesome, genuine, and truthful if we faltered and learned important lessons along the way? It might be useful to remember that failing and making mistakes is an organic part of trying to do something outside of our comfort zone. Another thing that has helped me is to realize that, in truth, no one is scrutinizing my work as much as I fear they are. As the common saying goes, you are your own worst critic. Knowing this can help you remind yourself that it is okay to go easy on yourself from time to time — because you’re probably still going to do a darn great job.
DR: Well, there’s an area between “best” and “failure” and it’s perfectly (pun intended) okay to exist there. Also, look at it this way, your quest for perfection may burn you out to an extent where you can’t produce work at all — perfect or otherwise. Frankly, from your woe, you seem to be reaching that point already. So, how about a more sustainable approach? “Slow and steady wins the race,” as you may have heard.
Look, I also understand it’s difficult to just get rid of the urge to be “perfect” simply because someone told you to. It would probably require time — and, maybe, even therapy so that you can understand why at all you feel this need to excel at all times. Once you understand the root of it, you can work towards eliminating it gradually. But for now, how about you just aim for “mediocre” one time and see how it goes? Maybe your work will turn out to be pretty damn good, and you’ll start to see there’s no point in over-exerting yourself. If not, you can re-do the work anyway. But hey, try to give it a shot if your mind will let you?
Also, while we’re on the topic, here’s something you should probably read — hopefully, it’ll help you realize that not being “perfect” at your work doesn’t diminish your worth as an individual. If anything, it’ll probably liberate you from the clutches of perfectionism, and enable you to be happier.
RN: This is going to sound so cliche that my own eyes have rolled all the way back into my skull, but you can’t achieve perfection without making mistakes along the way. Failing and learning from it is an essential step for anything, and giving something your absolute best means that sometimes you just have to take a few steps back and pause. Take some time to recharge, listen to what your mind is telling you. You’re likely not procrastinating, you’re probably paralyzed by exhaustion tugging at you from one end, and guilt on the other. The best work is produced when people have had time to do nothing and let ideas gently simmer for a while. It’s great that you’re passionate about what you’re doing now, but don’t lose sight of the fact that rest is essential to the process — you risk eroding your own passion without it!
PR: Do I relate? or do I relate?
I feel like it becomes hard when we self-criticize at the expense of getting the work done and then seeing what we can do to make it better. The one biggest thing that can help is to communicate with the people you’re working with, telling them where you’re at in the process. Or talking about when you feel stuck, and it would help if they gave some pointers. It becomes difficult when we are the ones putting an insane expectation on ourselves to outdo every single thing that has come to pass. It’s important to realize that you’re getting to do things you feel passionate about because you’re good at it, and you’ve gotten this far.