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Are you a perfectionist, or are you just using that term to justify inaction? Tune in to this episode of The Art of Charm to learn what’s at the root of perfectionism, and why we use a myth to cover up our fear of failure.
Have you ever been asked “What’s your greatest weakness?” Maybe in a job interview, or on a date — it’s a question that puts you in a difficult corner. How can I package a strength inside a weakness?
A recommended response is to say, “I’m a perfectionist.” On the surface, this response works — perfectionists demand high standards from themselves and love when life is orderly and organized. But as we all know, life isn’t usually orderly or organized and that’s when the dark side of perfectionism emerges. Perfectionists are governed by a deep-seated fear of failure that blocks them from putting their work into the world out of fear of criticism.
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Sigmund Freud was the first to link perfectionism with procrastination.
“A lot of us, myself included, thought, ‘Oh, that makes a lot of sense.’ That perfectionism leads to procrastination. You wait for everything to be perfect, so you just don’t do anything,” AJ says.
But the research today proves that Freud’s idea is actually a myth. The anxiety and fear of failure that fuels perfectionism produces a “negligible amount of procrastination.” This is the myth of perfectionism, the subject of today’s episode of The Art of Charm.
“Perfectionists are the ones who can never finish the project,” Johnny says, “Because then it will be up for ridicule and criticism. It’s the person who’s continuously tinkering with the report, or never turning it in, or hands it over to their superiors about 90% done.”
That fear of criticism is what separates the perfectionist from the procrastinator. A perfectionist will let that fear drive himself/herself into depression and anxiety attacks. On the other hand, procrastinators have a different course of action.
“The procrastinator will move on to something else to procrastinate about,” AJ says.
So for those of us who struggle to complete projects, this is an important distinction to take into account. “Anxiety isn’t something that keeps you from doing a project,” Johnny says. “In fact, it’s something that pushes you into getting a project started, and going above and beyond.”
When it comes to how they view themselves, “A procrastinator is not going to be critical of himself. It’s the perfectionist who’s going to be critical of themselves for not succeeding.”
“Everything we’re talking about here comes down to ego and that sense of shame and embarrassment,” AJ says, “One of the best ways to work your way through that is with a sense of humor.”
“If you want to build resiliency, something like improv, a dance class, even CrossFit,” Johnny recommends, “you’re going to be in front of people — things aren’t going to go as planned.” Immersing yourself in these unpredictable environments neutralizes the perfectionist’s obsession with the results. And as AJ says, “You’re also going to be surrounded by other people who are failing.”
And when everyone is failing, you see failure for what it really is. “As a perfectionist, the avoidance of failure is often tied to what others think about you,” AJ elaborates, “Everyone is failing, and through that failure, you start to get more comfortable with it.”
If a perfectionist is governed by a fear of failure, and the only way to conquer this is by failing more, then we must change the way we view fear so we are driven towards it.
“In the moment, when you’re failing, and there’s people staring at you, your ego’s a little bruised; it can be difficult,” says AJ. “But it’s never as bad as you thought. It never is taken as negatively as you are going to perceive it and be critical of.”
Keeping this top of mind is easier said than done. There’s a reason public speaking is people’s number one greatest fear. But that’s also why it’s one of the greatest thrills in the human experience. Johnny has been performing on the stage since childhood, so he knows exactly how to look at fear.
“You’ll get a rad story to share, connect with, and show vulnerability. If you go into the unknown looking to receive those three things every time you do it, now you’re getting something worthwhile out of it.”
For the perfectionist, viewing failure as this exciting opportunity will push you towards your fears. And when this happens, the attachment to orderliness will come crumbling down because you’ll be learning new things about yourself.
Whether or not you’re a perfectionist, tune in to today’s episode to learn the nuances of the elusive personality trait. After listening, you will be able to dispel the myth that most people still believe in!
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