Real not Perfect

Georgina Blog November

“Near enough is good enough” I muttered, under my breath at my eleven year old daughter after two exasperating hours assisting with a native animal project. It was 10pm, the project wasn’t the fabulous one she had in her head and she wasn’t happy!

“Why is she so perfectionistic?” I demanded in my husband’s general direction. He threw me a knowing look….

As they say it’s all in your DNA

Quick Quiz – If you are into self-diagnosis then try this.

  1. Do I have trouble meeting my own standards?
  2. Do I often feel frustrated, depressed, anxious, or angry while trying to meet my own standards?

 Perfectionism: the Upside

Perfectionism is a common trait, often found in people and environments where there’s fierce competition – that would be most contemporary work places – as well as industries relying on elite performance like the arts and sport. AFL players, ballerinas and Russian gymnasts come to mind for me. Small doses of “flexible perfectionism” (Corrie & Palmer, 2014) can actually be beneficial, because they encourage us to push further and put in our PB (personal best).

But

Perfectionism: The Catch

Rigid perfectionism can be a source of stress, anxiety and feelings of failure (University of Zurich).

I know in my younger years I specialised in contorting myself into whatever “perfect” version of myself I thought people would respond to best. I’d berate myself if I wasn’t first in my ballet scholarship or end of year academic awards (oh how the mighty have fallen!) There is little joy or ease in living like this…

Don’t think I’m trying to take away from striving… not at all….just promoting self acceptance and loosening up a little.

The more we try to be an idealised or perfect version of ourselves, the more remote we actually become from who we are and our values. We start living our lives more in our head, caught up with our internal judgments and trying to project a version of ourselves rather than actually being ourselves. This definitely sucks the juice out of life. It’s also really hard work.

Try this mindfulness exercise, which helps you to get a little more flexible around the perfect versions we have of ourselves.

  1. Take 10 deep breaths
  2. Try to notice where your breath comes in and out of your body
  3. When you get distracted – as we all do – just notice what distracted you, try not to berate yourself for not doing the exercise “perfectly” and bring your awareness back to your breath.
  4. Choose an area of your life to focus on. Eg: being a leader, a parent, a friend.
  5. See if you can “picture” yourself as the “perfect parent”. What does that look like, sound like, feel like etc.
  6. Now see if you can allow that version of you to come and go in your mind, without trying to hold onto it.

Implications for Leaders

Perfectionist leaders tend to:

  • Sets unrealistically high standards of performance
  • Stick rigidly to these high standards of performance and not be open to other ways of doing things
  • Be overly harsh in their evaluations of performance

And for those working for them – they feel they can’t make mistakes, need to be over every detail, have to work long hours to do so and become very narrow in their focus, often missing the bigger picture. I can feel myself shrinking as I think about working for someone like this. It also sounds particularly tedious – where’s the encouragement and spontaneity?

Leonard on Flaws

At a recent orientation day, participants were saying how great it was that the senior leaders were real and approachable, admitting their flaws.

As Leonard Cohen croons so magnificently “Forget your perfect offering there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in”

And for those of you who’d like to hear his mellow and yes ageing voice

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2HfvV5CDiiI

 

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