The Perfect Trap

wire rebar trap
Framed Rebar by BY-YOUR-⌘, Flickr creative commons

Perfection is a trap.  My first blog post, What False Comfort Zone Are You In? shared how my recognizing that trap had enabled me to go forward.  Well, here I am again.  Caught up in the desire to be perfect.

My day job requires that I am certified in PALS (pediatric advanced life support.)  I have to re-certify every two years.  You’d think I’d be used to it by now.  I’m not.

To pass this certification one must understand the body’s physiologic response to various medical crises.  You must pass a written test AND a re-enactment of several different crises.

Understand that these are things I have rarely had to do in the course of my career (and it ain’t short!). Some of the situations and activities I must re-enact are beyond my scope of practice.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  There are good and reasonable reasons why I need to know these things.  Many of my patients have medical conditions that are serious and can become life-threatening if not treated promptly and correctly.  Not to mention that within the department are nurses who work in the recovery room where they must and DO recognize these medical crises.  They work hand-in-hand with advanced nurse practitioners, respiratory therapists, and many other experts.

It’s performance anxiety, I tell myself.  I am an introvert.  Performing in front of others is not a natural nor comfortable state.  In reality I’m caught in a trap: seeking perfection.  I so desperately want to know it all so that I can do it right that I needlessly saddle myself with much more work than is necessary.

Defining Perfectionism

Ah, perfectionism what is it, really?  According to Dictionary.com it is “a personal standard, attitude, or philosophy that demands perfection and rejects anything else.”  Well, what’s wrong with that?  Perfectionism magnifies the importance of achieving that goal.  Rationally, we know that perfect isn’t really possible. But we are going to kill ourselves to make it as perfect as possible. And a single-mindedness on achieving perfection can lead to procrastination (it’ll never be perfect so why try?), bullying (my way or the highway), and low self-esteem (I can’t ever get it right).

At it’s root, perfectionism can be acquired from parents who were perfectionists, or from parents who were hyper-critical or didn’t give you any feedback at all.  It could be the result of a lack of self-esteem or feelings of inadequacy.  It can also very simply be fear of failure.

What perfectionist need to learn is that perfectionism is not the same as the pursuit of excellence.

So how does one cure perfectionism?

Get Out of the Trap

First, if your  perfectionism is so severe that it has damaged your relationships with others, consider seeking professional help.  If you’re like me and simply drive yourself crazy with your perfectionism, here are some steps you might try.

  • Admit you are a perfectionist.  Go ahead.  Face the mirror and admit it.
  • Ask yourself what do you want to achieve? (by being perfect or by making this one thing perfect) Write down your answer so you can look at it objectively.
  • Ask yourself what will happen if you DON’T achieve your goal?  Make a list of all the negatives and the positives.
  • Ask yourself what will happen if you DO achieve your goal?  Who will notice?  Write down your answer.
  • Make the decision to change. Mirror time again.  Look yourself in the eye.
  • Take one thing at a time.  Choose one thing to ‘get wrong.’  Allow yourself to feel how that feels.  Write down what happened as a result of doing it ‘wrong.’
  • Forgive yourself for not being perfect.  It’s not a perfect world.
  • Give yourself permission to strive for excellence without being perfect

Confession Time!  Tell me how perfectionism trapped you and what you’ve done to overcome it.  I’d love to hear your stories, even if they aren’t perfect. 

 (I mistakenly attributed the feature photo to the wrong photographer.  Corrected at 0621 on July 23, 2012)

8 thoughts on “The Perfect Trap

  1. I am NOT a perfectionist when it comes to housework but teeter toward it in other areas. What saves me is the sheer number of mistakes I make in a day–a humbling number that proves over and over I’ll never achieve perfection and should stop trying for it.

    You, I’m sure, are an outstanding nurse. Good luck with the PALS recertification–and with kicking the perfectionist habit.

  2. Yay Lynette! Congratulations on your first blog! Although I don’t know what else you would call your previous posts. LOL! Have you been an undercover blogger Lynette? 🙂

    Anywho. Boy oh boy, did you pick a sore subject for me. I was raised by an award winning perfectionist. Err! How does one weed that out of our genetics Lynette? I work at it everyday. But just think. You are not alone! 🙂 Great post my friend!

  3. Great post, Lynette! I’ve had some challenges with perfectionism, but selectively so. Overcoming an eating disorder taught me a lot about the ills of aiming for “perfect,” which doesn’t exist in the first place. I love the 80/20 rule—aiming for awesomeness most of the time, and allowing for errors and wiggle room. It’s our imperfections that make us human and relatable. And mistakes often make way for creativity, our best work and let’s face it, hilarity. 😉

    1. You are so right! “It’s our imperfections that make us human and relatable. And mistakes often make way for creativity, our best work and let’s face it, hilarity.” It’s hard to remember that sometimes, we focus so much on our imperfections and what we think others think of us. Thanks so much for stopping by, August.

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