Before we get into it, I have to share this moment of insight. Have you struggled with what to say when people ask you, what do you do for a living? Or they want to know, how are you? Or they ask you for your favorite book or your favorite color or your favorite documentary or your favorite anything? Well my friends, here is your one size fits all answer. You say: IT’S COMPLICATED. Then, if they look at you smiling expectantly, you can elaborate. If they glaze over, groan, or walk away mumbling, you know you don’t have to waste your time explaining.
And so it is with perfectionism. Complicated. I’ll never forget the gifted teenage boy I was working with. He wasn’t doing well in school and his parents were trying to figure out why. I don’t remember what I said in the moment but I remember his response. “It’s not that simple. It’s never that simple.” He was so right.
Today, I am going to give you a new look at the intrinsic variety and then share my thoughts about the client dilemma I mention in the video above. Her fears of failure and success.
Intrinsic perfectionism is the innate version that is your deep, heartfelt striving for beauty, balance, harmony, justice, and precision. It is not ego-driven or pathological. It is what your soul must have to feel nourished, authentic, and met. It comes naturally to you. You may not realize that many others do not have this, so they (and you) may label it obsessive, neurotic, controlling, or compulsive.
It is not any of those things.
I don’t usually use celebrities as examples but I happened upon this YouTube interview of Barbra Streisand. She personifies intrinsic perfectionism. If you know of her acting, singing, and directing, all of it is extremely meticulous, detail oriented, precise– in films, down to each single frame (she says in the interview). And this drive is not just professional. In the video, she talks about her personal need for beauty and how carefully she has designed her home. Colors, textures, sounds, tastes, smells. This is not a wealthy person being self-indulgent. This is a gifted human with the highest standards for beauty, balance, harmony, and precision. And when it comes to justice, she has that, too. Streisand is an outspoken activist who cares deeply and has contributed quite a lot to creating a better world.
Granted, you are probably not a celebrity, but I am betting you can relate to this description. As I say in my video, your job is to embrace this about yourself and appreciate the extraordinary quality that emerges when you live this way. That said, there will be days when you can’t quite satisfy these standards– many moments when there is no time because you still have to do the laundry. Thus, you will need to evaluate the specific situation you are in. Is supreme depth and highest quality really necessary here? Might your standards be lowered in this particular case?
Consider, then, there will be times when you will need to prioritize. Otherwise, some important tasks may be missed. Relationships may be neglected. For example: Do you really need to send the perfect email to your friend? Does the apple pie need to look gorgeous as long as it tastes delicious? Will your three year old really notice if the birthday party is skipped this year? Does the newsletter you design and write for your electric utility job need to be visually stunning and comprehensive so that you have to work overtime to complete it when, chances are, your customers will toss it in the recycle bin unread?
Now, referring to my client’s fears of failure and success, what did I tell her as she was unable to learn the new painting technique quickly and easily? When she was tempted to quit because she did not feel she had natural talent and was not used to having to work at something, having to practice, and struggle to learn?
This: It’s complicated. You are not used to struggling because typically you learn many things quickly. But it is good and appropriate that some things take time and practice. This is how it is for most people. You may want to quit because this struggle may confirm in your mind that you are not gifted after all. But giftedness does not equal advanced abilities in all areas all the time! And you need to model for your kids that patience, practice, struggle, and setbacks are all part of growth and learning. Sometimes the greatest satisfaction comes after an achievement borne of struggle.
My client looked at me. Not particularly convinced by my explanation.
What did I tell my client about her desire to hide her accomplishments for fear of criticism, jealousy, and rejection by others?
This: It’s complicated. It is true that you may need to select carefully who you tell about your achievements. Not everyone will celebrate your successes. But that does not mean you should not achieve or that you should not strive for excellence. (Excellence, not perfection.) Your job is to be you. To shine your light. It will be important to find at least a few humans who love that you are so prolific or so talented or so accomplished or so kind-hearted. Build a team, however small, of advocates who are not threatened but who are thrilled by your pure, authentic, magnificent youness.
My client looked at me. She will think about it.
And, I imagine, my dearest magnificent complicated rainforesters, that you will think about it, too.
To my blogEEs: This one took me a while to write. Do I think I’m a perfectionist? Do you relate to many of these complications? We would love to hear from you. As always, thank you for being here. Much love!