I’m working on a book about overcoming perfectionism. It’s going to be perfect.
Frankly, I see so many people in my coaching practice whose major sticking point is their drive/need/desire/compulsion to be perfect. They can’t act unless they can be assured that the outcome will be perfection.
This search for perfect has a partner – procrastination. Perfection seekers postpone action until the all the pieces are in place to hypothetically insure success. However, when all the perfect pieces inevitably fail to fall into place, nothing happens. Ever.
That’s certainly one way to be safe: don’t do anything, then you can’t possibly do anything wrong. Oh, boy, do perfectionists hate being wrong. Why? Our psychologist friends say it’s rooted in self-esteem, anxiety and control issues. I’ve heard more than one perfectionist say that if they are imperfect then people will know they are a fraud.
Well, all I know is that many perfectionists I see are stuck, unable to act and unable to feel fulfillment.
And they confuse excellence with perfection.
I got a call this week from a loving, devoted mother whose 12 year old daughter is on a select volleyball team. The team is so good, in fact, that they’ve been to nationals. The athletic daughter, let’s call her Carly, announced that she needed to quit volleyball because she wasn’t “perfect” at it. The mother asked me, “What should I do? She’s really talented, and enjoys the game, and her teammates elected her captain. She’ll be miserable if she quits.”
OK, blurting happens. In coaching, blurting happens more often than I ever expected. I blurted to the mom, “Who wants to be a Soviet gymnast? Who wants to be an athletic automaton who executes every move with textbook perfection? Where’s the thrill in that?”
I was on a roll. “Look at Tiger Woods. He’s probably the greatest golfer the game has produced. But he’s not perfect. I’ve seen him hook the ball far to the left, or slice to the right. He’s in the rough plenty of times. I’ve seen him double bogey.
“But what Tiger has – what makes him great – is his ability to improvise. He famously used his driver to make a difficult putt from the fringe. He’ll turn his club backwards to hit a shot. He knows his game, he knows his skills and has the confidence to use anything he’s got to play the game.”
Improvisation takes heart. It takes soul. But most importantly, improvisation takes an awareness of who you are and an understanding of what you bring to the situation.
I talked with Carly’s mom about how to reframe the girl’s drive to excel from “having to be perfect” to “getting to be creative”. If the planned play is Dig, Set, Spike, but the setter is out of position, it takes creativity for the spiker to still make the point. And when a player makes an unbelievable point, what happens? The crowd goes wild.
That’s not perfection, that’s excellence.
Ironically, improvisation can have perfect results. What you say? Without planning, without plotting, without a safety net – you can be perfect?
Yes. You can be. To prove my point, I’ll ask you one question:
Have you ever heard Ella Fitzgerald scat?
Go to this web address http://www.smithsonianjazz.org/class/fitzgerald/ef_class_1.asp and listen to any of the audio clips.
Ella’s in the moment, using her magnificent voice, tremendous range and keen understanding of jazz to create one-of-a-kind, indelible perfection.
Letting go, trusting your talents, trusting your instincts, trusting your training… and improvising – that’s how to productively channel your pursuit of excellence. That’s how to live a full and fulfilling life.
I am working on a book about perfectionism, and it’s not going to be perfect. It’s going to be whatever it’s going to be. What I’m bringing to it is awareness of my experience and an understanding of how to overcome the limits of perfectionism.
Won’t that be perfect?