The Plague Of Perfection

Oct 09, 2023

Who’s the one who said it first? Claimed what we had to be?


How did I learn it? Where did it come from? And why does it overtake me?


These are the questions I’ve had to ask of this pervasive, haunting, thief of joy.

I know you know of whom I speak. You’ve likely met her in the dark spaces of your mind. She disguises herself as your friend, as someone you need close by your side. Really she’s a master of illusion, a chameleon who finds a way to hide in plain sight.


This trickster is perfection of course.


Somehow, as a little girl, I decided the only way I’d be ok is if that was my never ending goal. I believed that perfection was a good thing. It was, to me, a badge of honor and something to aspire to always.


According to Wikipedia, perfectionism is a broad personality trait characterized by a person’s concern with striving for flawlessness. It’s accompanied by critical self evaluations and concerns regarding what other people think and how they evaluate you.


And that, my friends, is the first place I relinquished my power. So much of my focus was on what other people would think that I completely lost touch with what I thought, what I wanted, and who I really was.


Perfectionism is a collection of thoughts that set the bar so high and so ambiguously that it’s impossible to reach. It becomes an incessant pursuit where nothing is really enough….at least not for long. No matter the achievement, there will always be something shy of perfect and therefore not enough, wrong, bad, etc. This skewed way of thinking leads many of us to transfer that to I’m not enough. I’m wrong. I’m bad.


I’ve accomplished many things in my life. I’m a physician. I’ve won awards. I raced Ironman. And the list goes on. Until recently, however, I never felt successful or satisfied.


The ironic part is that, unconsciously, I thought that if I did things the right way and looked even better then I would never have to feel things like blame, judgement, and shame. In reality, I was the one providing heaps of blame, judgement, and shame for myself. I became my own worst enemy. As I’ve learned in my physician coaching program, striving for an ill defined, impossible goal, with no tolerance for failure or struggle, pits us against ourselves in an unwinnable fight.


My inner critic was out of control! I thought being hard on myself was the only way I could or would achieve. It’s as if I thought I would give up all goals and sit on the couch for the rest of my life if I didn’t constantly tell myself how I should be better. I realize now there’s a difference between achievement from inspiration vs obligation and that the pursuit of perfection was actually keeping me from growing into my true potential.


At the time I discovered coaching, I’m not sure if I still would have identified myself as a perfectionist (because I thought so poorly of who I was and what I had brought to the world and believed that a perfectionist would surely be better than me), but I quickly came to realize I held all the traits.


Unraveling the knots of perfectionism is no easy task, but it may be one of the most worthwhile things we ever do. How else will you ever know what you’re really capable of unless you escape the oppression that is smothering your potential? Brene Brown defines perfectionism as the 20 ton shield we carry around to protect ourselves, which only ends up holding us down.


Can you imagine a world where you’re driven to grow and change rather than by fear of failure? What about a space where you’re satisfied by your efforts and proud of who you are? How about being able to hold the ability to see failure as absolutely necessary for growth and learning and a normal part of the process? What if you could still seek excellence and not be afraid to experience anxiety and disappointment?


Sign me up!


The first steps to emerging from the cycle of perfectionism are all about awareness. When we begin to become aware of how and how often we judge others, when we judge ourselves, the voice of our inner critic, and the resistance we have to feeling uncomfortable, we begin the process of breaking down the walls we’ve built around ourselves…the ones we thought would keep us safe but really have only kept us isolated with the most destructive beast we could ever know.


We do not have to remain victim to this self destructive, painful, addictive belief system. We can develop the tools to believe in our worth and break our own glass ceilings.


I hope you’ll join me! That little girl inside who still thinks she isn’t enough will be so happy you did!


All my love,


Coach g


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