In speaking with a client today, discussing a recent failure to win some new business, she said, “You know, I notice in recounting this event that I really expect myself to be perfect, to do everything right.” She was caught in a cycle of assessing what she did wrong, identifying plausible reasons for not winning the client, and beating herself up for this ‘failure.’ She could not see that practice, not perfection, has value as well.
As someone who considers myself a bit of a perfectionist as well, I could empathize with the constraint she was feeling, and recognize she was trapped in a No-Win situation. So we began to explore how this expectation she has is limiting. Being a perfection-seeker doesn’t mean you end up doing things perfectly all the time, but it does give you a pretty serious yardstick to measure yourself by, for good or for ill. One could say that it has you operating in a context where failure is predictable. As a perfectionist, do you find yourself saying, “See, there it is, I did that PERFECTLY!” or do you more often identify flaws of how things haven’t turned out as perfectly as you had hoped?
Nothing and no one is PERFECT, but that doesn’t keep some of us from expecting or demanding perfection – of our performance, in our relationships, in the environment around us.
What became clear in our coaching session is that her need to be perfect (undistinguished, in the background) limits how much risk she was willing to take. It was keeping her from being bold, perhaps standing in her way of fulfilling on some really big ‘wins’ — which are all things she’d really like to experience in her business.
My client was freed-up in the moment to see the pattern, and courageous enough to be willing to interrupt it. Launching a new year in business, she decided to look for opportunities to take risk in her business. She looked for places she could hold up a new yardstick, swing out, go after jobs that interest her even though she may not be able to demonstrate perfection.
She has opted for a temporary mantra to “seek practice, not perfection.”