Embracing Flaws – A Perspective on Perfectionism

I used to think of myself as a perfectionist. I would work a task over and over again always finding flaws up until the point of “completion”. In my mind nothing was ever complete, I only finished because I ran out of time. Given unlimited time I probably would have never finished anything. This could have been one of my issues in Pharmacy School. I had to learn to stop chasing perfection.

Influences in chasing perfection

Outside influences

Chasing perfection bothered me, I would have a nagging feeling after a task was completed that I could have done it differently. I used it as a learning tool for future tasks but the results were always the same, that incomplete feeling.

Then I would receive feedback, not necessarily negative but different than what I did. I would (and sometimes still do) take that as a criticism or confirmation that my work wasn’t good enough because I wanted it to be perfect. There would be an unknown standard that I could never live up to and any flaw would be considered a personal criticism.

This was an unsustainable feedback loop designed to focus on failure and not the success. My focus was on what I wasn’t getting right instead of all the things I was doing well. I could complete 100 tasks, 99 without comment and I would focus on that 1 that did have a comment, taking it very personally.

That doesn’t mean that I apply every bit of feedback I receive, but I do consider the meaningful, value-adding observations and take action accordingly.

Internal influences

I had to learn to appreciate my successes and not focus on the perceived failures, it’s still a work in progress but it takes discipline and introspection. Being satisfied with the results from our actions comes from within, no matter how many accolades or criticisms we receive, we have to be happy with our results for what they are, a step in the right direction, not the end of the path.

Writing posts is one of the ways I work on my pursuit of perfection. I give myself a time limit for posts and I stick to them. I publish what I have and let it go into the world for public scrutiny. If I would dwell on every post then I would have no posts to publish. It’s working so far on this blog and my work.

Before I started this blog I was concerned about my ideas being judged, then I thought “so what?”. Let people judge my writing, find the flaws, it’ll only make me a better person for going through the experience. So I stopped focusing on the negative and look to the positive. If I posted something and my grammar was incorrect, so what? I did something that was better than doing nothing and I’m happier for it.

Managing perfectionism

Besides chasing perfection in writing and work, it flows into other areas of life. I would go to the gym and work out without a real goal of how I wanted to shape myself. I would see people working out and looking in every mirror they passed, I guess they were hoping to see a perfect body in the mirror and maybe the next mirror would show it. There is no perfect body, only a healthier one.

I enjoy my day job. There are good and bad days but overall it’s a good job. When I was younger I would be unhappy because the job wasn’t perfect or it wasn’t my passion (that’s another lesson). I would think that one day I would have my dream job because I would have figured out my passion and chased it. This was a hard lesson but I learned that not everyone has a passion and I was (and am) lucky to have a job I like. Not only that but my job gives me an opportunity to explore and discover what I enjoy and learn that not everything has to be perfect.

This doesn’t mean that I let things slide or ignore imperfections that can be addressed. I don’t settle for average but I don’t obsess on what can be better and I focus on the things that are learning experiences that are meaningful so I can grow and have a more enriched life.

Final thoughts

Knowing when to stop being a perfectionist is to know when to be happy with the results we achieve. I know that we are all imperfect and waiting for perfection is to wait for something that’ll never happen. I choose to learn and grow through my efforts and to work on being happy with what I’ve done instead of unhappy with what I didn’t do. But I’m happy when I can look myself in the mirror and know it’s the absolute best I can do.