Monday 15 January 2018

Perfectionism vs Happiness: a personal story of imperfection

 

I have a confession to make: I am a victim of my own perfectionism.

My life has somehow been marked by phrases said by the most diverse people – all with a life-changing effect on me.

The first was a quote written on a magnet that my mother gave me when I was an early adolescent: Never underestimate the power of a dream.

That had a massive impact on me: I never give up and I never stop believing that I can make it, that I can do it. This has affected my positive restlessness that leads my attitude to life and my behaviour every day. ‘Doing enough’ has never been enough for me. Doing my best and always asking the questions ‘What else can I do? Where else can I go? What else can I learn?’ define who I am.

The second sentence which has marked my life has actually been said to me in a variety of different formats. Last week a colleague of mine sent me a quote that summarises all of them: ‘A bird sitting on a tree is never afraid of the branch breaking, because her trust is not on the brunch but on her own wings’.

This has also had a massive impact on me: I have always believed that I am the captain of my ship and the master of my actions. This has also meant taking full responsibility for my actions and my mistakes. Looking for scapegoats and external forces has never been my approach to life.

The third and most impactful sentence, though, is this. When I was at the elementary school at the age of 10 I took the exams that define the transition to middle school. As a mark, my teacher at the time gave me ‘Quasi Ottimo’ – ‘Almost Excellent’. I will never forget what at that time I promised to myself: I will never accept anything that is ‘almost’ the maximum. And so I did – I thrived throughout my education always managing to get top marks from the age of 11 to my second degree. Never less than the maximum.

But what happened when I finally entered the working world? I followed the same spirit never accepting anything less that the maximum. Top clients, top ambitions, top results. Before Xmas I had a coaching session which lead to a real epiphany. I finally joined the dots around my perfectionism. For me getting the maximum is a self-protection mechanism from judgement. If you do not fail, if you always get the best, you are not judged. It is very simple…What could you be judged on? On being error free and perfect?

But let’s have a look at it from another perspective…doing your best is honourable but fearing judgement to an extent that perfectionism becomes your norm is a form of prisoning. Being victims of your personal perfectionism is giving in to the tyranny of perfectionism. And this is the worse form of self-victimization.

On the other hand, how does the discomfort of not being perfect feel? What do you avoid when you are always perfect? What can you learn when you are imperfect?

This is my most challenging goal this year: facing judgment and experiencing ‘not being perfect’.  

In a nutshell, honouring the sentence of an Oracle which I chose eyes closed in Australia 2 years ago on my first solo trip:

If you wish to find happiness and freedom stop self-sabotaging those fundamental rights by giving up having to be right all the time. Just enjoy being yourself!

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Marianna Amy Crestani is Head of the Coaching Practice at TCO International – Accelerating Global Agility. With over 25 years’ experience, we have supported more than 60,000 people in over 100 organisations across 140 countries. We provide customised solutions and open workshops for individuals, teams and entire organisations in the area of global agility. For more information or questions contact m.crestani@tco-international.com.