Perfectionism and Courage – and What Lies Between Them?

By The Road To: The Road Comments

When you call someone a perfectionist, do you mean it as a compliment? Do you look at a co-worker or friend with a pinch of envy and think to yourself: "she's a perfectionist—no wonder she looks perfect and, at the same time, juggles all her tasks and manages her work life so well." Well, you may want to think again. Refusing to accept any standard short of perfection comes with the tendency to be orderly, detail-oriented, conscientious about following rules and doing what is right and "proper.” This often comes with a price tag, however, because the same person may be afraid of making mistakes and tries to compensate for her shortcomings by being over-controlling and inflexible about what she expects from herself as well as from others. I recommend a great post on The Everygirl blog by psychologist Sara Seung-McFarland listing 5 reasons to ditch perfectionism.

Courage, on the other hand, is about confronting uncertainty, facing difficulty, and working out how to let go— all things you learn on the job.  It is about the mind or spirit enabling a person to make emotional leaps of faith.

Isn't that the total opposite of perfectionism? How can you have the courage to do anything unfamiliar or out of your comfort zone if you are looking to do things perfectly? You can only really have an element of control over an outcome when you are treading in familiar territory where you know exactly how much effort is required.

When traveling down an entrepreneurial road, it is critical to understand the subtle difference between perfectionism and courage. I had always considered "perfectionism" a compliment, until I realized how much it was a stumbling block on my way to real progress, but changing my perception was no mean feat. The distinction between perfectionism and trying to be your best is so small that you can easily go through a lifetime without needing to confront it.

Here are 5 reasons why courage might be a key factor in releasing us from the slippery mindset of perfectionism:

1.  The courage not to do everything perfectly will help avoid backing out in the first place

The first unhappy result of perfectionism has to do with the state of mind that browbeats us into either doing everything perfectly or backing out entirely. It is not the doing everything perfectly that concerns me but rather the second part that can be dangerous. Perfectionism often means that we will not even allow ourselves to get into a situation which we are not sure how to handle.  Worse still, we will not allow ourselves to get into a situation, unless we are confident we will shine. Just imagine how many undiscovered opportunities we will miss out on. What can  change this pattern of not trying for fear of not excelling? Courage. We may be perfectionists, but we must also have the courage to take risks and reach for the unknown.

2.  Courage as a catalyst for gaining confidence

The pursuit of perfection can be a confidence killer. Doing everything perfectly can be perceived as creating a sense of achievement and therefore confidence, but in reality it can lead to that snowballing of anxiety and stress to the point where we can neither relax nor escape negative thinking. Ironically, instead of improving us, perfectionism may actually drive us away from our most perfect selves. By courageously setting goals and achieving them, we can regain our self-confidence; we should aim to get our best results but not according to some kind of perfect scale set by the standards of others.

3.  Courage may revitalize mastery

Mastery is important for entrepreneurs. There are so many new skills and new aspects about building a business that need to be learned. Mastery isn’t about becoming the best social marketing expert or the best speaker, for example; the significance of mastery is in the process and progress. It is about learning to develop an appetite for challenges regardless of our confidence in overcoming them and our familiarity with the matter at hand. It is the courage to face these hurdles and not let them stop us from trying that matters; that is what promotes personal growth. Perfectionists may find themselves quitting before they reach a dead-end, because they fear never reaching the point of excelling in any particular skill.

4.  The courage to face risks and not be afraid of failure

The fortitude to step out of our comfort zone doesn't come from following rules and expectations but from the willingness to be different, to venture into the unknown, and not to fear failure. As perfectionists, we probably let our doubts consume us, and we give up even though, with a little optimism and courage to face the outcome, it is easier to keep on going. The courage to keep on trying and persevere, even as we make mistakes, is unattainable unless we ditch the perfectionist voice inside our head.

5.  The courage to adjust to change and to add action to our set of tools

Being able to adjust to the rapid changes, technological and other constantly happening around us will soon not be enough. We will need to create the change; fashioning our own reality will become an inherent part of our behavior, no more a reactive approach but a constant proactive listening to and subsequent pursuit of our needs and urges. But it isn’t enough just to listen to that inner voice and let it guide us. Courage is that essential ingredient that can turn thoughts into actions. And embracing action into our set of tools is what makes thing happen and turns imagination into reality. 

This week the blog was about courage and perfectionism and how the two interact: it started with eye-catching  prints—a more courageous fashion choice representing an attitude which shuns perfection or conventional style rules — and then continued with flower arrangements which make their impact with no need for perfection. This balance of aiming for the best but fearlessly looking beyond perfect results can be key for reaching our best selves.


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