In this episode of the Disgruntled Life Coach Podcast, It’s all about perfectionism. We’ll start off with definitions and quotations, then the main segment will help your flawed life be remarkable, and we’ll finish off with a Disgruntled Nugget – a little piece of wisdom you can take with you, or not, I don’t care. Also thx to Audionautix and Partners In Rhyme for the music and sound effects.Support the show
As always, I want to ask a favour of everyone today. We are having a national election where I live, and I want to stress the importance of getting involved in the process, wherever you live. And I don’t mean screaming, yelling and being a fucking public nuisance. I’m referring to educating yourself on actual issues, the positions of the candidates, and what will help everyone live better lives. So it’s important to listen and, no matter what it takes, you must register to vote if you aren’t already and vote. It doesn’t matter how many hoops you need to jump through, this is important, so please educate yourself and vote, this election and every election.
So, today we’re talking about perfectionism. I can already hear your eyes rolling back in your head, but stay with me here. No one is saying that you shouldn’t try to accomplish things as best you can, even perfectly on occasion. What we’re talking about here is the drive to always be perfect, how we use that to sabotage some of things that we try to do, and how we can get away from the self-flagellation of hating ourselves for not being perfect. We’re only going to scratch the surface, but I hope it’s the perfect introduction for you. Kidding, it won’t be, but let’s get started anyway.
By definition, perfection is a noun that means “the state of being perfect.” When we go a step further we see that perfectionism is “refusal to accept any standard short of perfection.” Well touch on perfection a bit, especially the mythology that it even exists in the first place, but we’re really going to focus the spotlight on perfectionism and how being a perfectionist makes you your own worst enemy. Well, that and, you know, exploding cars and shit, those are pretty big enemies, but you have no control over that. Let’s look at some quotations for context.
Our first quotation comes from Julia Cameron, an American teacher, author, artist, poet, playwright, novelist, and pigeon fancier – I’m not even kidding about the fucking pigeons. Full disclosure, I love pigeons, just sayin’. Anyway, Cameron was hailed by the New York Times as "The Queen of Change," she is best known for her book The Artist's Way although her body of work is extensive, and she was also once married to Martin Scorsese for 17 minutes. I’m kidding, it was closer to a year. She said “Perfectionism is not a quest for the best. It is a pursuit of the worst in ourselves, the part that tells us that nothing we do will ever be good enough - that we should try again.” And spoiler alert, no matter how many times you roll those loaded dice, you still lose, just like at the casino or, you know, the revenue people.
The next quote comes from Adam Smith who was a Scottish economist also known as ''The Father of Economics'' or ''The Father of Capitalism,” due mostly to his 1776 publication known casually as The Wealth of Nations. He said “To feel much for others and little for ourselves; to restrain our selfishness and exercise our benevolent affections, constitute the perfection of human nature.” Although his words are absolutely correct, it’s a bit hypocritical coming from such a morally bankrupt pursuit as economics, which Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of The Lancet, describes as an ideology where it is “acceptable to worsen the lives of some provided the gains of others compensate. Economists institutionalize inequality.” I know, I’ll get letters from economists for this, I’m sure I’ll live.
Finally we have Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, a German poet, playwright, novelist, scientist, statesman and much more who died in 1832. His works include plays, poetry, literature but is best known for The Sorrows of Young Werther from 1774 and, in 1808, the first part of his most celebrated drama, Faust. He’s credited with saying “The man with insight enough to admit his limitations comes nearest to perfection.” This, then, becomes the key to this topic – the knowing you are not perfect - and we'll jump off from here.
So, what is perfectionism, and why do you need to pay attention to it? In short, Dr. Paul Hewitt, Professor of Psychology at the University of British Columbia, defines “the construct of perfectionism as a maladaptive and multidimensional personality trait.” More fully, perfectionism is a broad personality style characterized by a hypercritical relationship with one’s self. Hewitt, who co-authored Perfectionism: A Relational Approach to Conceptualization, Assessment, and Treatment, goes on to say “setting high standards and aiming for excellence can be positive traits, but perfectionism is dysfunctional because it’s underscored by a person’s sense of themselves as permanently flawed or defective. One way they try to correct that is by being perfect.”
Whats’ more troubling is that all of us, starting at a younger age, are punishing ourselves with an unattainable drive to reach some semblance of perfection. In a published study titled “Perfectionism Is Increasing Over Time: A Meta-Analysis of Birth Cohort Differences From 1989 to 2016” co-written by Thomas Curran and Andrew Hill, students reported much higher rates of perfectionist behaviours then even as recent as the 1990s. “These findings suggest that recent generations of college students have higher expectations of themselves and others than previous generations,” said Curran. “Today’s young people are competing with each other in order to meet societal pressures to succeed and they feel that perfectionism is necessary in order to feel safe, socially connected and of worth.”
So there’s a lot to unpack there, like getting back from your trip to Berlin. Ha - as if you’ve been to Berlin, fucking liar. But really, what is this perfectionism that they’re talking about? Well, this study measured three distinct types of perfectionism: self-oriented, or a desire to be perfect; socially prescribed, or a desire to live up to others’ expectations; and other-oriented, or holding others to unrealistic standards. It’s that second one that we’re going to talk bout the most because it’s the source of most of our perfectionist issues. And if you're anything like me, and be fucking glad that you probably aren’t, that’s a tough twig to snap, or row to hoe, or nut to crack, or whatever.
But here’s the thing, you can’t see things clearly if you look through the perfectionist lens all the time. You end up equating the inability to complete a goal to failure and, with that, comes a lack of personal worth or value. By living in fear of not being perfect, you miss the opportunity to try new things and, yes to fail – but that’s all part of personal growth. Margaret Atwood famously said that “If I waited for perfection... I would never write a word.” So the idea of not doing anything, unless or until it’s perfect, sets you up both for failure that you can’t live with, or the inability to try new things at all. So kiss that ballroom dancing course goodbye, Daryl. This is no way to live your life! But, hey, I got a plan, because I’m a fucking life coach.
The first thing you need to know is, specifically, what insecurity you have that drives you to try to be perfect. This requires you to be present, right here, right now, to analyze the root cause of your perfectionism tendencies. This, in itself, won’t fix it, but you need to identify and reconcile the anxiety and insecurity you have that drives this behaviour. Psychotherapist Mel Schwartz says “Usually, we strive toward being perfect to compensate for a sense of inadequacy. People who want to be perfect usually have an exaggerated sense of their own shortcomings.” So give yourself a fucking break for gawd sake and don’t be so hard on yourself. Just stop looking at your mistakes, stop worrying about failure, just be here, now, and accept yourself. Whoa, that was deep, sorry.
Another thing to remember is that, most often, it’s pressure we put on ourselves that cause this. This solution is simple – stop doing that. Start with the root of your problem and that’s the unrealistic goals you set yourself up to fail at. Whether it’s the size of the goal, or the quality of the end product, you have to start setting more reasonable goals. For example, if you’ve never built furniture before, don’t think that you can put together a dinning room set from scrap oak and some wood pallets you found. It’s too much, too soon, and the project will get done badly or it will never get done, and you’ll be eating meals off of the cedar chest in your living room that you’re using as a fucking coffee table for the next five years until, finally, you go and buy a shitty chrome dinette set that you hate. Sorry, I digress. But the message stands – reasonable goals, and reasonable outcome expectations – this is important.
And, finally, be kinder to yourself. In a previous episode about the pillar Don’t Be In A Rush, I talked about the value of saying no. Do this. But, if you do say yes for all the right reasons, check in on yourself once in a while. If you look at something that isn’t perfect, just silence that inner critic. For every one thing you see that’s not perfect, find two more that are really good. They will almost certainly be there, and good is fine, perfect is stupid. Just keep your inner voice on your side, and stop comparing your progress to what things could be, or what someone else can do, or what you think the world expects of you. Live your life, and stop being mean to yourself. You’re doing really good shit, keep doing that.
Okay, so that's it for this episode. As always, I'll leave you with a Disgruntled Nugget in a second, but first I want to thank you for listening. Remember to subscribe to this podcast, I’m on all the major platforms, and please visit www.disgruntledlifecoach.ca for all my podcasts – Yes you heard me, w-w-w. Please also follow me on twitter @lifedisgruntled, there's a link on my website. And go ahead and request some stickers – make my day. Well, not really, but still, ask for some fucking stickers. Also, if you like what you've heard today, tell your friends. If you think this is ridiculous, still, tell your friends, I mean how hard is that?
Oscar Wilde once said that "It is through art, and through art only, that we can realize our perfection." But if that's true, we must also attempt to consider the words of Eugene Delacroix when he said "The artist who aims at perfection in everything achieves it in nothing." I think it's more Accurate to consider the words of Antoine de Saint-Exupery when he said "Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away." So it is only through art that we realize that there is never perfection to be found, unless we take away as much as we must to realize perfection is achieved and also impossible, or something, I don't know, whatever ...
Again, thanks for listening, and thanks also to Audionautix and Partners in Rhyme for music and sound FX, thanks again to Neatnik for visuals, and thanks for your patience - see you in two weeks, or not, whatever...