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Perfectionism: Is It A Blessing or Curse In Sport, Career and Love?

This is a Guest Blog by Dr. Shawn Haywood

Do you consider yourself to be a “perfectionist”?

When I was a young gymnast, perfectionism just seemed to ‘come with the territory’.  The sport is completely centered around literally hundreds of miniscule details.  You could have up to 8 corrections in just one skill!  Perfection is the name of the gymnastics game…  I chose gymnastics because it was a perfect fit for a driven young athlete who was already poised to pour over, scratch that… obsess over, every detail!

We were a perfect match in many ways.  I loved gymnastics with all of my heart!  Every detail about it was beautiful, strong, courageous and elegant to my eyes and heart.  Every pointed toe, new skill, chin up, the smell of chalk, and of course, the high flying flips that made me feel so free … and the many flops as well!  All were parts of being connected to something I was deeply passionate about.

But… there’s always a but isn’t there!  Gymnastics also served as a way to abuse myself, and badly.  Today I am still seeing professionals like the magical Kate, to heal my body.  I didn’t care how much pain I was in, or that I ate 6-12 Advil a day.  One year I actually competed two days after I got a small hairline fracture in my foot.  YEP!  It was excruciating.  But being the perfect athlete was more important.  There are dozens more self abusing stories, but you get the point.

It may sound extreme, but I see strong, independent men and women in ‘perfection’ over drive every day.  And while your version of chasing the mythical perfection may or may not be working through ‘a broken foot’, it is likely a comparable version. 

Being busy from sun up until you fall into a heap from exhaustion at the end of the day, while the adrenal system is begging for a rest and recovery.  Possibly the monumental work load that has you so stressed that anxiety or depression is but a moment away.  Or it could be the way you binge eat to escape from all the crazy stress and drama that comes from striving to be perfect at every single thing!

Interestingly, born ‘perfectionists’ migrate to demanding sports in their youth, and then demanding sports (or other hobbies) and careers as adults.  Perfection seems to be a natural piece of the puzzle if you desire high achievement and commitment to great results, right?  Or is it?

The thing is, perfectionist types often get far TOO caught up in achieving and can miss the forest for the trees.  And when I say miss the forest, I mean they miss LIVING.  They miss the fun because so much of life seems so damn serious!  They miss out on rest and recovery and often good health.  The miss the joy of being present because they are always thinking of ‘the next’ thing.  Missing out is a major flaw in perfection-driven living.

Releasing the drive for, or even obsession with, perfection is critical to a joy-filled and inner-peace-filled life.  Perfection doesn’t exist my friends.  And if it does, we are each it already.  All are perfectly imperfect. 

I invite perfectionists to begin considering what the costs are for striving for this mythical unicorn called ‘perfect’.  Whether in life, love, sport or career, striving for perfection is a stumbling block that provides myriad blind spots.

For example, I have a client who thankfully realized that her desire for perfection was giving her young daughter the impression that she ‘was never quite good enough’.

Another client was driven so hard toward perfection and achievement that he ignored a knee issue that soon became a serious injury, preventing him from running for months (which can often lead adult athletes into situational depression, and did for this client).

There is also a client who is the CEO of a 15 million dollar consulting firm who realized that he was micromanaging his team so badly that most hated their jobs.  Thankfully, he has learned how to release mental construct and the icky habits that accompany it, which has allowed staff rehabilitation to take root and flourish!

And on and on the examples could go.  What are your versions of perfectionism?  How do they affect your life, sport, self care, career, family, and coworkers?

People feel a deep longing to be perfect for pretty specific reasons.  The often unconscious belief systems behind perfectionism are something along the lines of, “when I am perfect, I will be… loved (cared for, successful, appreciated, good enough, worthy, valuable).  You may have a different reason, but in the end, it always comes back to a deep heart felt desire to be loved and accepted just as we are in this moment, and at this time, and with these flaws.

What we don’t often tune into is how painful the undercurrent that perfectionism inevitably includes for our self and all the people we touch.  Perfectionism does lead others to feel not good enough too.  Or to dislike or even hate their job.  It erodes trust and connection and makes genuine vulnerability and transparency impossible.  Loved ones feel distant and frequently walk on egg shells.  The culture of perfectionism is a perfect melting pot for anger, resentment and frustration to fester and grow.

Pivoting away from the dredges of perfectionism is key in any journey to greater happiness, calm living and MEANINGFUL success and achievement.  And don’t worry, when you begin to release perfectionism, you will NOT become lazy or complacent as many of my clients fear in the beginning, you will actually achieve a great deal more!

Sooo, the goal becomes, no more doing tasks, work outs, or striving for goals simply for the sake of checking things off of the ever so beloved list of to dos!  Yeah, I’ve been stalking you and I’ve seen your addiction to check lists!

But perhaps instead of to do lists, you could begin a NOT to do list!  Every time you say yes, you are also saying no. 

Maybe you can look at your objectives, goals, lists and so on from a fresh perspective, and a place of deep meaning, passion, inspiration and purpose.  You don’t have to handle everything or do everything in or to be loved or valuable.  And you’re right, others won’t do ‘it’ like you, but if you begin trusting others, they might surprise you and do it even better!  Either way, delegation is a great way for a recovering perfectionist to begin healing and to FREE up some time to chillax… which we all know you totally need!

I invite you to begin tuning into yourself from a place of compassion and care.  There is no need to abuse your body, mind, heart, spirit or emotions, or that of others in an effort to seek the mythical unicorn.  It only exists in your mind anyway, which too could probably use a break!

Cheers to off loading the heavy burden of perfectionism!

In Love and Liberation, Shawn

If you’d like support navigating the journey to rid your life of challenges like perfectionism, head on over here and see what this coaching thing is about!


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