What’s your karaoke song?

Mine is Mustang Sally.

I have a friend who, without her stirring rendition of Ice Ice Baby, she might not have met her husband and moved on to find her dream life.

Oh, what’s that? You don’t have a dream song.

“Janice! I would never … I mean, to get up and sing in front of other people … I’m just … NO … I’m a terrible singer.”

What? You think I’m Adele?

Nope. Nor is my Vanilla Ice friend.

We can’t carry a tune to save our behinds. But we get up there and do it. Somehow, somewhere along the way, we managed to accept that we love to sing, we can’t sing and, screw it, we’re going to do it anyway.

Sing like no one is listening

It’s karaoke. Who cares if you’re singing badly? Most of the people listening are out to have a few drinks, socialize with friends and have some fun.

No one is going to be the next American Idol. (Especially since this is the last season, so HA!)

Sure, some people are better than other singers.

Sure, some people are going to show off a little bit.

Then there’s you.

Sitting on your stool, swirling your beer and letting the opportunity to take a risk pass you by.

That’s what getting stuck in perfectionism is all about.

One of my favourite writers, Seth Godin, recently gave a few lines to perfectionism. Known for his two- and three-line blog posts filled with genius, he penned While Waiting for Perfect:

You’ve permitted magical to walk on by. Not to mention good enough, amazing and wonderful.
Waiting for the thing that cannot be improved (and cannot be criticized) keeps us from beginning.
Merely begin.

I’m a recovering perfectionist.

I used to obsess over every little detail of every presentation or report I was preparing.

I used to lose sleep, wondering if I should have done this, that or the other thing better. Or differently.

I had myself convinced that being a “perfectionist” meant I had high standards and I worked my ass off to achieve them.

Then I realized I was chasing an impossible dream.

As perfectionists, we never see anything we’ve done as good enough. While others may see as pushing hard for what we want, maybe even overachieving, we are busy picking apart our accomplishments, seeing fault where it may not exist and failing to accept compliments or praise.

Curing yourself of the yeah-buts

Perfectionists are always reaching for the next level.

If we have eight or 10 of our colleagues telling us we did a fantastic job, the first words out of our mouths are usually “yeah but.”

We have no compassion for ourselves (which means we also have little compassion when others make mistakes).

We never get a sense of satisfaction.

We never build our confidence.

We doubt ourselves.

And, ultimately, we can become so paralysed by the doubt that we develop a fear of failure.

A fear that can create a detriment, halt our creativity and prevent us from even getting started on a project.

That’s the kind of perfectionism that Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar calls “maladaptive.”

The author of The Pursuit of Perfect: How to Stop Chasing Perfection and Start Living a Richer, Happier Life, Ben-Sharar has defined two types of perfectionists: maladaptive and adaptive, which he also calls “optimalists.”

The two exist on a spectrum and a maladaptive perfectionist can become an optimalist, where perfectionism is about being a hard-worker, but it also comes with acceptance, responsibility and trustworthiness.

The maladaptive perfectionist keeps kicking the dog and doesn’t learn from her mistakes. She suffers from painful, emotional responses from her perceived failures.

The optimalist strives to do her best and learns from her mistakes. She thinks “I want to do better, but I’m not going to let this stress me out.”

The billion-dollar question is how do we get there?

How do we move away from the yeah-buts, the doubt and its cycle of stress?

We give ourselves permission to make mistakes.

Yes, it sounds easier than it is.

Giving ourselves permission to fail

Failure is a part of life. We talked about that in the blog post, Success: Why the heck is it so terrifying.

Perfectionists have a hard time accepting failure. Our self-worth becomes tied to what we can achieve, and our sense of success is tied to how others perceive us.

Ben-Shahar says the antidote to perfectionism is acceptance.

When we do not accept our flaws, we focus on them constantly — we magnify them and deny ourselves the silent satisfaction of serenity. Imagine spending a year in school — reading and writing and learning — without concern for the report card at the end of the ride. Or being in a relationship without the need to mask imperfections. Or getting up in the morning and embracing the man, or woman, in the mirror.

Here’s how we’re going to get there:

  1. Every time you think you’ve fallen off the horse, get up and climb back on. The more you do something, the more you practise, the more you learn, the better you do.
  2. Acknowledge your victories. When you complete a task, you will write down five (10, if you can) things you think you did well.
  3. Ask for help. If, over time, you think you’re making the same mistake over and over, you have to figure out how to fix it. Take a course, hire someone to help you … at the very least, recognize this skill is not your strength and fill the gap somehow.
  4. Accept compliments. When someone gives you praise, open yourself up to that person and say “thank you.”
  5. Take responsibility for your mistakes, because you will make them (we all do!). The strengths we have in leadership come from our ability to be vulnerable.

Once we start giving ourselves permission to err and move on, we stop limiting ourselves with the fantasy of perfection and we no longer prevent ourselves from enjoying life.

Stop to smell the flowers

Yes, I am a recovering perfectionist.

I have realized I have faults and I’m OK with them.

I have gained a better sense of myself and I know where my strengths lie.

I no longer spend sleepless nights, torturing myself over the little details, and I know I put my best foot forward every time I set out to do something.

I look for “perfect” elsewhere, like:

  • The birds flocking to the flowers in my garden
  • The wag of a dog’s tail
  • The swirl of a robust red in a wine glass
  • The brilliant sunshine of a hot-as-hell summer day in Kamloops
  • The laughter of my friends and family
  • My morning tea with George
  • My clients’ a-ha moments

Life has become more enjoyable since I stopped expecting perfection.

It is good enough, amazing and wonderful.

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