Think Differently to Beat Impostor Syndrome: The Perfectionist

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Valerie Young is the author of The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It.  In a previous post, I wrote about the different versions of Impostor Syndrome. Here’s one version.

The Perfectionist believes that if you’re not perfect, you’re no good at all. Perfectionism is sneaky and hard to beat, because getting something exactly right is such a noble goal. Who wouldn’t want to be perfect? Here’s something to consider: you might not just be holding yourself to perfection; you can infect others as well.

Young writes, “There is a right and wrong way to do everything from packing the car for vacation to preparing a project plan.” When you get caught up in perfectionist thinking, any product that you believe could perhaps have been even a little bit better, will be labeled as a failure. No wonder you feel like an imposter. Do you take over and re-do things your partner, your children or your staff have done? Even if it was okay the way it was? (Be honest.) Every time you tell someone, “This is how that’s done,” you run the risk of imbedding this crippling behavior in their psyche.

Perfectionism is a huge setup. You’ll never be perfect, but you will wind up avoiding any challenge you think you can’t do perfectly. You also lose any ability to take pleasure in your actual accomplishments. You’ll give a killer presentation and then obsess over a minor point you forgot to make or fret over a tiny stumble you made. A recipe for misery.

Young writes that perfectionists must adjust to a different mindset. She says it even has a name: Paradigm creator James Bach calls it “good enough quality,” or GEQ. Every company ships a product knowing there will be a few minor bugs that will have to fixed.  That’s life.

This is not, Valerie Young says, about lowering your standards to being comfortable with putting out mediocrity; it’s about living in the real world. “What it does mean is, with some obvious exceptions such as performing surgery or flying an airplane, not everything you do deserves 100 percent. It’s a matter of being selective about where you put your efforts and not wasting time fussing over routine tasks when an adequate effort is all that is required. If you get a chance to go back and make improvements later, great—if not, move on.” Trust yourself to be good enough.

If you’re sure you can’t let go of your impossibly high standards, consider some of your favorite things. Look around your home. Do some of your favorite piece have flaws, imperfections, wear and tear?  Of course they do. You love your favorite tree, your dog, your child because of their endearing flaws: the gnarled branch, the gently worn antique, your young son’s cowlick. Perfection is boring and unobtainable, and it’s holding you back.

Here are Valerie Young’s new competence rules for the Perfectionist.

  • Perfectionism inhibits success.
  • Sometimes good is good enough.
  • Not everything deserves 100 percent.
  • Your perfectionism impacts others.
  • Non-perfection is to be embraced.
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