Ep. 120: How Perfectionism Is Ruining Your Life

    On this week's episode we confront the harsh truth of perfectionism. Perfectionism has been hard-wired into all of our brains to be a marker for success and ideal living. We often to fail to recognize, however, that the constant pursuit of it is running us into the ground. Instead, let's learn to embrace missteps and accept every facet of growth on our journeys.
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    Show Transcript:
    Hi friends welcome to another episode of lessons from a quitter. I am so excited to have you here. If you have signed up for my three-day challenge, we are smack dab in the middle of it. And if you didn't, what are you doing? You're clearly here because you needed some career help guidance. And this challenge is chock-full of actionable advice and things to think about when you are deciding what path you should take. Listen, I don't want to toot my own horn, but it is a really, really good challenge. It is not fluff. It has tons of information that will help you get clear. That'll give you a little bit of guidance. So if you still want to see the replay videos, when it is all over, you can still sign up, um, go to quitter club.com/replay and sign up there. And I will send an email to everybody that signs up with a link to all the replays.
    If you've already signed up for the challenge, you don't need to re-sign up. You will get a link already for all the replays, but if you were sleeping on it, or if you're, this is your first episode and you want to be a part of the challenge and you want to see what the hype is about. Go to quitter club.com/replay and sign up there. Okay, let's jump into today's episode. Today's topic is one that I think many, many of you guys in my audience will relate to and suffer from because it is all about perfectionism. And I think that we often wear perfectionism as a badge of honor. We tout it in interviews. We think it makes us look like a very hard worker that it makes us look like we're meticulous. We pay attention to details. We care about our hard work. And so I think some of you might be surprised at this episode to hear about how toxic perfectionism is.
    And I think others of you probably, if you suffer from perfectionism already know how toxic it is and realize that it kind of has a hold over your life and maybe you don't know how to get out of it. So this is what we're going to talk about today, starting off. I mean, it's no wonder that so many of us are perfectionists because we are raised in societies that praise perfection. If you think about from when you started school, like the entire point of school was to learn exactly what they taught you and then regurgitate it as close to perfect as possible. I mean, we were literally graded on a system that tried to get you to that perfect score. And we were taught very early on that being number one is the most important thing like that is the entire point of your educational system is to try to get as close to number one as possible, close to a hundred as possible, right?
    We're not taught to create just for the sake of creating. We're not taught to just follow our curiosities, even if it doesn't lead to any specific accomplishment, we're not taught to continue with something that we're not good at. Right. Think about it. Think about the messages that you were sent as a child, think about the messages that we send our children. And oftentimes it comes with the best of interests, right? Let's say you tried out for the soccer team and you didn't make it. And you want to try out the next year, your parents might've said something like, Oh honey, maybe you should try out for tennis. Maybe you should look into swimming. Like maybe there's something else that you can do. And they want to protect you from being hurt again. Right. But what is that message that they're sending that like, if you can't be great, if it's not clear that you're going to be outstanding or good or whatever at this thing that you shouldn't even bother trying, don't take another at bat, just give it up.
    And so many of us do this because we want to protect our children because we don't want to see them sad and hurt. And I think it really takes, you know, even for me, this is something I struggle with all the time, because I somehow have believed that like my job is to take away all of my children's pain as much as possible. And I have to constantly remind myself that that is not my job and that negative feelings and pain are part of life and it's okay. But what is the message that I want to teach them? And I think back to the messages that we all received as children and a big one was like, just go after the things that you're really good at and obsess over that with making it perfect. Try to like engineer it so that you can keep getting better and better.
    And so, so many of us started finding our worth in the things that we accomplish and what other people were proud of us for. I want you to think about like how many times did you stay in something that you didn't actually like that much? Just because you were good at it, maybe it was like an instrument. Maybe you were playing the piano or maybe it was a sport or maybe it was just a subject in school. I always remember this. Like I was naturally better at math and science, but I just never was as interested in those topics as I was topics that had a lot of gray areas like the law and psychology and, you know, just English and things like that, where I could come up with whatever answer I wanted to come up with and I could argue different points. And I liked that more, even though it was easier for me to do math actually like did enjoy the fact that there was a right and a wrong answer, but I remember having so much conflict over wanting to pursue an education in liberal arts.
    When I knew that I could be better in math and science. And I think that so often we end up not even thinking about it and when we're children, you know, it's because we're led by people that supposedly know better than us. And they've told us that the more successful way, the better way is to go after the thing that, you know, you can be good at. And so, so many of us go after degrees or careers or, you know, paths that we don't actually like at all, even starting out, like we already know we don't like them, but Hey, I'm good at it. So I might as well.
    And it continues, you know, when you go to work, I think that in corporate America, as most of us have probably experienced your input or your ingenuity, or, you know, your way of looking at things is not valued or oftentimes it's not even acceptable. Right. Even if you have a better way, like so many of us that have worked in corporate America, we'll see something that's just wildly inefficient or just not the best way of doing something. But the higher-ups, like don't care, like this is the way you do it. This is how you're taught to do it. And you do what you're told and you do it as near perfect the way that they want you to do it as possible. And so we stopped trying new things. We just do what we're told. And then I would say most of us stop trying new things.
    Even when we're in school, like by the time we've gotten to the workplace, it's kind of been beaten out of us. And so we don't ever try to think outside the box or do something because it seems more interesting or maybe it would be a more fun way of doing it. It's like, how can I get to the perfect result? And in some professions, perfectionism is literally the standard, right? As a lawyer, I now look back and I realize that the obsession, like we would take unbelievable amounts of time to scrutinize every word of a document, every comma or period, right. You're taught that the standard is a hundred percent or nothing, that's it? And so you are trained to fear ever making a mistake, some provisions, it may be life or death, right? You're a surgeon. I feel like the margin of error is much less, but I think a lot of provisions like to think it's life or death when it actually isn't labor, death, anything, and law just comes to mind for me.
    I remember so many things, the urgency and the, you know, obsession over, you know, there's 500-page document, like every single word, whereas like, then likely nobody's ever looking at that document again. But it's like the one in a million chance that like something goes wrong and then we're going to need this document. And then, you know, somehow you think the whole world is going to crumble. If you didn't pick the right word in this sentence. And so oftentimes I think we like to think our job is more important than it actually is. And that is because that is what the client expects and that's what the bosses expect. And so we pour over this and we have this all or nothing thinking. And so we start taking on this belief that it has to be perfect and that bleeds over into everything we do.
    Right? And oftentimes we start bragging about this, like about the fact that we're a perfectionist and we're so good at, you know, being so meticulous. But I want you to understand that your perfectionism is just your fear of failure in disguise. That's all it is. You think that if you can make whatever you're doing, Bulletproof, then you can prevent or reduce the chance of failure of having other people criticize you for making a mistake, right? It's a defense mechanism to protect yourself. At some point, you learn the lesson that making a mistake or failing was bad. And so you desperately are trying to prevent having to face a situation where you could be found to have made a mistake or did something wrong. But it's only because of the story you are attaching to it. You are making it mean something about you and not the task that you're doing.
    If you make a mistake, then it means you're not smart or reliable or worthy. Right. I've had so many clients that have so much anxiety about work and it comes down to this crippling fear of doing something wrong. And when we dig into it, I mean, they realize that mistakes are human and that it doesn't mean anything about them, but they cannot shake. This need to be perfect. And it's really funny because when we talk about it and I think they kind of start to understand is like, this anxiety takes over their whole life. Like every morning when they're waking up, they wake up with anxiety every Sunday, it's like the pit of dread. And when we talk about like, what would happen if they made a mistake, right. And how awful that would feel, and they are kind of envisioning it. And then we talk about the fact that like, they're trying to prevent that awful feeling of how they would, what they would have to sit with.
    If they made a mistake or something went wrong or having to sit with that discomfort. But in doing so, they're feeling awful all the time, right? It like makes rationally makes no sense. Like they've made their entire life miserable for the off chance that they might feel miserable. If they make a mistake, when you reframe it, you can kind of see it. Like I've ruined my life now because I'm so scared to make a mistake and all that would happen. And we'll talk about this a little later is if I made a mistake, I would feel a negative feeling that I'm feeling every single day. Anyways, it leads me to this point saying that like what this fear is, is a way of controlling other people's opinions of you. We put on this persona in the hopes of making sure that we show that we belong, that no one will doubt our ability to be there.
    Or no one will be able to criticize us, especially in the workplace. Right? So many of us fight imposter syndrome for so long, our own brain is constantly yelling. Like who do you think you are? You don't belong here. They're going to find out, someone's going to realize you have no idea what you're doing. And because we have that soundtrack going on in our own head, we're so desperate to try to make sure that nobody else thinks these things are nobody else questions, whether we have it all together. And so we work ourselves to death. We pour over every detail in the hopes that if we make it perfect, then we will control how other people view us. So you either don't put anything out there, right? You don't come up with new ideas as you know, like make suggestions to your boss. You don't try, you know, side hustles or hobbies or anything, or you obsess over every single detail.
    And then you attach your worth to that outcome. It's really just a lose, lose situation. And I just want you to see that it's nothing to be proud of. Right? You're trying to protect yourself and you have to ask yourself, like, what am I trying to protect myself from? You're spending your life anxious and unsatisfied and beating yourself up for what I'm not saying that you can't take pride in your work and try to give it your best. You absolutely can. And you should. But we all know that there's a difference between feeling satisfied with yourself or the effort that you've put in and trying to prove to everyone else that you're perfect. The latter leaves you feeling hollow, right? It runs you down. It's not for you. It's to protect you. And I think one of the biggest things it does is that it prevents you from growing.
    There is a study that was done on a college campus. It wasn't a photography class. And on the first day of the semester, the professor split the class into two groups and told one group that they would be graded on the total number of photos that they turned in. So they were tasked with just taking as many photos as they possibly could. And the second group was told that they would be graded on the one photograph that they had to turn in. So they had to like make it the most perfect photograph from this semester. And they would re-graded on that. And the question was, which group was going to turn in the better work product. And I think oftentimes people think the group that was asked to turn in a quality photo would turn into the best one because they have the whole semester to come up with one photo.
    That's going to be great, but that was not the result. The result was that overwhelmingly the group that turned in the most number of photos actually turned in better quality photos because they got to experiment. They got to experiment with different lighting and different backdrops and lenses, and they had time to practice as opposed to obsessing over one photo being the best one. And I think this is just so clear in what we see with, you know, in the real world. I think so many people that allow themselves the ability to just try and try again and try different things and put their hands in different baskets and have hobbies and do tend to have a fuller life, tend to get further. I mean, I look now in the business world and I see the people that are constantly willing to experiment and try new things and try different marketing plan and put out a different product and do all these new and innovative things are the ones that continue to grow.
    The ones that keep a leg up on their competition. The ones that are obsessed with getting all of their emails perfect and getting the perfect product and keep like doubling down on the thing that they have, even though like, you notice that the world is going in a new place, they're the ones that get left behind. And so I want you to ask yourself, what kind of life do you want? Do you want one that is full and adventurous? Do you want to let yourself be able to enjoy new things and experiment? Do you want to push yourself to grow or do you want to make sure everything appears perfect? Even if it means killing you in the process, do you want to only do things that you can know you can do well? And so you forego anything new. I mean, obviously, when I ask it in that way, there's an obvious answer, right?
    Because quote unquote, success that so many of us have like killed ourselves to climb, to looks great on the outside and we strive for it. But by the time we get there, we realized that we had to give up the fullness of our lives in order to have it, we're overcome with stress and anxiety. It cost us our peace to keep up this illusion of perfection. So if you want a rich life full of exploration and growth, you have to give up perfectionism and might be asking, how do you do that? Great question. You have to first stop attaching meaning to events, mistakes or failures are a natural part of any process. There has never been a journey that did not include mistakes. It means nothing about you. If you make a mistake, it means that you are a human and we all inevitably will make the mistakes.
    You have to decide how you're going to treat yourself. When you make that mistake. Are you going to have your own back? Are you going to be kind to yourself or are you going to think that it means something about you that you're like somehow inadequate or a failure or, you know, not worthy of love and success. You get to decide that that's the best thing. Like you get to think whatever you want. So choose it wisely. I talked about this attachment or fear in the episode on the fear of failure in episode one 17. And it's the same thing that if you can stop attaching a meaning to failure, then you can allow yourself to try. So many people have just reframed what failure means to them. Like it's just a learning experience. And that's the only way that you will open yourself up to trying new experiences, to not having to have this need to be perfect because you cannot be perfect by definition, whether it was like something new that you try, you will never be perfect at it.
    So if you can change that story that you're attaching to it, then you let yourself have the opportunity to try. You can practice thoughts. We've talked a lot about how your thoughts are the white cause your feelings and your feelings cause your actions. So if your thoughts are, Oh no, I can never make a mistake or I'm going to get fired. Or if they see that I made a mistake, you know, I'll never live it down or I'm not worthy. Then obviously that's going to lead to feelings and actions. That's gonna keep you stressed, anxious and not trying anything. So try other thoughts, try thoughts. Like this is part of the process. Even if I make a mistake, I'll always have my own back a mistake doesn't mean anything about what I can and can't do. It really is just reframing it for yourself and practicing thoughts that you can believe.
    But beyond working on your thoughts, sometimes you just have to push yourself to put out B work. All the thought work in the world often won't move you fast enough to taking action. So sometimes it's just starts by doing things that aren't perfect so that you can see that the consequences aren't as big as you make them. When you start realizing that you were blowing it out of proportion, it helps alleviate the need to be perfect. Next time, I want you to be brave enough to be a B student. And I say brave various specifically, because it takes courage to sit with that discomfort of not having it be perfect of not being able to control what other people think about you. It takes courage to sit with the discomfort of failing and being okay with it. But it's really the only way that you will allow yourself to grow.
    And last, I just want you to know that what you are avoiding is a negative feeling. All of this fear of doing something wrong or making a mistake is avoiding feeling disappointed or scared or stressed or anxious or whatever, because you make a mistake or you didn't do it the exact way that you want it. And I always say this, but that's the best news because that's it. I want you to think about it. Like the worst thing that can happen is that you're going to be embarrassed or shamed or sad or disappointed, but you can handle embarrassed, shamed, sad, or disappointed. You can feel that vibration in your body. It won't harm you. And when you realize that you've spent so much time feeling horrible so that you can prevent feeling horrible, you realize how ridiculous this game is, and it can release so much of that resistance. So I want you to go out into this world and be a full human with all of your flaws and quirks and interests. I want you to give yourself the opportunity to grow. I want you to see the potential in having a life that is calm and fun, but that only comes when you let go of this need to be perfect.
    So go out there, my friends, and put out some B-minus work and see how it changes your life. I hope you guys liked this episode and I will be back next week. Brian, thank you so much for listening. I can't tell you how much it means to me. If you liked the podcast, please rate and review us on iTunes. It'll help other people find the show. If you want to connect or reach out, follow along on Instagram and Facebook at lessons from a quitter and on Twitter at Twitter podcasts, I would love to hear from you guys and I'll see you on the next episode.