Overcoming Obstacles to Reach Your Goals: The Perils of Perfectionism

What is perfectionism?

Perfectionism is a character trait characterized by a person’s quest for flawlessness and often involves critical self-evaluations and concern regarding others’ evaluations.

How does perfectionism hurt you?

Perfectionism is a really common obstacle that can hinder you from reaching your goals. It is closely tied to anxiety and the result is that you are so focused on everything being “right or perfect” that you prevent yourself from taking any action at all. That fear-based paralysis kicks in and you are so caught up in worrying whether something is totally ready that you don’t move forward. This is not to say that you should not worry about quality and go through life doing a half-assed job at everything; it’s saying that you should do the best you can and then keep on moving. Interestingly, perfectionism is more common in those who were identified as gifted/talented when in school so consider it an honorable problem to have.

Action breeds action while the reverse is also true. If you just wait and wait until you feel that something is “just right,” you will likely be waiting for a very long time. Conversely, if you do your best and then put something out there, that step helps you to create future steps.

The Car Analogy

If you’re planning to drive your car from, let’s say Missouri to California, and you look at Google Maps or whatever you use, and do some planning about the best route to take and pack your bags and plot out how to avoid rush hour, etc., you will still never get to California unless you turn the dang car on and start driving! Could you get lost? Yes, and luckily, you can turn the car around or go a different direction and learn as you go. Could it get dark out? Yes, and then your headlights will turn on to help you navigate in the dark. What if something goes wrong? Flat tires, dead alternators, and other assorted car problems happen—that’s part of being a car owner but those things can be remedied even if it causes a delay in your travel.

I don’t even live in Missouri so what’s the point? All goals involve some challenges and detours, but if you start taking action, you figure out how to overcome those challenges and sometimes the detours end up being even better than your initial intended goal. Basically, a car parked safely in your driveway will never go anywhere.  

3 ways to handle perfectionism:

  1. Take a step. Any step. Figure out the most logical place to start with your goal and then take that first step. Remember: there is boldness in action.
  2. Plan on missteps. If it goes smoothly, great—now you can plan the next step. But if something goes awry or a challenge presents itself, use it as a learning tool and make adjustments. Remember: you learn more from what goes wrong than what goes right! My son once complained about getting 98% on a test and missing one question. I asked him what that question was and he knew it right away (and the correct answer) and said he would never forget that one again.
  3. Get help. There are multiple things you could try to address perfectionism. Try a meditation practice for anxiety, such as through Headspace or Brainsync. Read The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown (I’ve recommended this book to many of my clients and they have gotten so much out of it). If your anxiety/perfectionism is crippling or preventing you from living your dream life, consider getting professional help from a therapist or counseling. Remember: getting help is a sign of strength because no successful person did it all on their own.  

Start today by taking a step toward your goal even though it might be scary or make you feel vulnerable. The more steps you take, the less scary it becomes and perfectionism will become a thing of the past. I’ll leave you with this quote that eloquently speaks to letting go of fear.

“You cannot discover new oceans unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.”—Andre Gide

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