C-Suite Advisory

The Problem with Perfection: How to start embracing imperfection and stop settling for safe

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Somewhere along the way, humans have forgot a very basic fact; that they are human, and to be human is to be flawed. Instead, our culture rewards successful results. The pressure to be perfect is strong, and it’s on the rise. Unfortunately, perfectionism is the fuel for a life lived small.

When we feel the need to be perfect, we avoid taking risks. We only do what we’re good at, we fail to learn, and we never grow. Very quickly, we’re living in a tiny box of our own making.

Perfectionism is pervasive. It’s not just goal-oriented perfectionism, it’s socially prescribed perfectionism. The pressure to be perfect is coming from all fronts today. In a recent longitudinal study conducted with college students across cultures from 1989-2016 using the Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale, it showed that self-oriented, socially prescribed and other-oriented perfectionism all increased in statistically significant amounts. Socially prescribed perfectionism increased at twice the rate of the others, which is troubling as this is associated with a host of issues including anxiety and depression.

So how can someone break out of a perfectionism cage?

Accept Imperfection

Here’s a not so secret secret, perfectionism is absolutely, categorically 100 percent unattainable. To believe you must be perfect is setting yourself up for certain failure. To try and attain perfection is a certain path to unhappiness, frustration, and a very boring life.

Building a successful career and meaningful life isn’t about being perfect and following a straight path. The most successful people are the ones who let go of the need to be perfect and weren’t afraid to follow a squiggly line, rather than a straight path.

Instead of striving fruitlessly for perfection, chose to navigate your life by focusing on what gives you meaning and fulfillment rather than going after a list of things like job titles and salary levels, or living life based on what you think you’re “supposed” to achieve.

Stop Confusing Achievement with Success

Achievement simply means that a goal or a milestone is attained. In and of itself, an achievement isn’t good or bad. It’s just an achievement. On the other hand, success is the sense of meaning and fulfillment that comes from achieving positive impact in the lives of others by continuously deploying your talents in alignment with your purpose. Contrary to what our culture today says, success is not about achievements, accolades or dollar signs.

True success is an inside job. One of the core elements of success is meaning. Meaning is an internally derived sense of self with a vision of how to navigate your life in alignment with your purpose. The “inside job” of success begins with recognizing and defining for yourself who you are, what your purpose is, and how you’ll lead your life according to your purpose. It must start and end with you. If it doesn’t, whatever you achieve won’t mean much to you. No matter how many achievements, compliments from others, or dollars you accrue, you will not be fulfilled and you won’t feel successful. You will always be lacking and searching for something, all while wondering why you feel so empty when by external factors, you are the poster woman of success.

Stop Doubting Yourself 

Even when we know what we want and we’ve decided to go after it, there’s this thing that seeps in and makes us question ourselves: it’s called doubt.

Our mindset determines our trajectory; it’s the single most important factor in whether we achieve what we want. This is why doubt is so dangerous and why you must stop doubting yourself.

You don’t need to know every detail and have everything you need right now. It’s a journey. Take the first step and stop doubting. If you’re determined and you’re willing to put in the work, you’ll have what you need to get to where you want to go.

Continually remind yourself that there is no one in the world that has your exact combination of skills, talents, background, and experiences. Even if you aren’t filled with bravado, this is one time where you simply need to fake it until you make it. There isn’t a successful person on the planet that didn’t have doubts and fears. The only difference between them and you is that they fought through what their inner critic was telling them and did it anyway.

Stop Settling for Safe

Perfectionism causes pervasive fear. The more you need to be perfect, the less likely you are to take risk. Your fear of failure keeps you from starting that business, taking that solo trip you dream of, and maybe even stops you from proposing to the woman of your dreams. Instead of reaching for the brass ring, you take the cowards way out and let perfectionism be the excuse. Every time you settle for safe, your life gets smaller and smaller.

Instead of fighting fear, you need to embrace it. With the right mindset fear can be helpful and productive. Fear can propel you forward. Many times when you feel fear it’s actually a sign you’re doing something incredible. You feel fear because change is inherently a little scary, but it doesn’t mean stop and go back to the status quo.

Having a fulfilling, purpose driven life requires you to put aside perfectionism, put on your big girl pants and live life boldly following your own squiggly line.

Written by Fallon Ukpe.

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Fallon Ukpe
Fallon Ukpe, MD, MBA, a speaker, author, and entrepreneur who is passionate about inspiring people and organizations to achieve their highest aspirations, experience meaningful success, and create a positive impact. Fallon Ukpe is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine.