Today I want to talk about perfectionism.

I’m taking a course that focuses on health coaching. At the end of the course, I’ll have a certificate that allows me to practice in my state. State laws have been a major stumbling block for me, as far as setting up a business here, and seeing clients. You guys know that I studied to earn a Bachelor’s in Natural Healing, and then an advanced degree as a Traditional Naturopath. When we lived in Nebraska, I had a small practice where I saw a handful of clients each week. I was still raising and homeschooling 5 of our 6 kids, so time to work was limited. But, then we moved to the state we’re in now. And the laws are different — very different. Here, it’s illegal to work as or call yourself a Naturopath unless you are licensed in another state. The problem for me is that Nebraska did not require, nor did it offer a license. There was no way to do that. Here, I can’t practice without it. I’ve talked to three different lawyers about my situation, and they’ve all said the same thing. “Don’t Do it. The state Will come after you.”

I went looking for alternatives, and I found that if I hold a certificate in Health Coaching from an established school, I can practice as a Health Coach. That’s what I’m doing.

That’s the background.

One of this week’s class lectures was about “perfectionism.” I think we can all agree that “perfectionism” is a bad thing. But, I want to talk about what that actually means.

When I’m talking to clients, I define “perfectionism” as a desire, or need to complete a task only if you can do it perfectly the first time. In addition, that desire has to be strong enough, and evoke enough fear that it prevents you from acting. It’s a problem because fear overtakes you, and you can’t make any progress.

In itself, I don’t believe that wanting to complete a task, make a change, or do anything else “perfectly” is a problem. We should all strive to do our absolute best in everything we do. Otherwise, what’s the point of doing the thing? But is that perfectionism?

I don’t believe it is. I believe that trying to do your best is simply doing things “right” and the way it should be for everyone. Personally, if something isn’t important enough to me to give it my all, then it’s not important enough to bother doing in the first place.

No matter what I’m doing, my intention is to do the absolute best that I can at that moment. Sometimes my “best” changes, and I’m fully aware of that. When I’m physically or emotionally tired, for example, my best when it comes to talking to others isn’t any more than simply showing up. When I’m experiencing MS symptoms, and it’s my turn to cook dinner, my “best” might be to ask someone else to cook. Or, sometimes, I have to do something that I really don’t want to do. In that case, my “best” could very well be to simply get the danged job done, bad attitude and all.

I think the pendulum has possibly swung too far on this. There was a time in our not so distant past where you did not show failure, you didn’t do things in public that you could not accomplish competently and correctly. You didn’t take chances in public. I was taught these things as a kid, and most people my age probably were too. It’s possible that mindset caused people to not take chances at all. And I agree that we are better as a society when individuals are not afraid to fail, because it often takes failing many times in order to achieve success. But, what bothered me about the student conversations was the number of people who said that in order to avoid “perfectionism” they only work to be “good enough,” they don’t work to be “competent,” or to “excel,” or to “be the best that they can.” They were focusing only on this idea of good enough to pass.

It sounds like they are only interested in doing the minimum amount possible to get by.

I don’t believe it’s possible to truly succeed like that. It’s been my experience that the people who only do the minimum amount required don’t excel. For example, you have two business owners. One focuses on being good enough, while the other focuses on personal and business growth. They are always doing extra, in order to BE extra.

Who do you think will do better in business? Who do you think other business owners will want to network with? Whose business do you think will make more money, and grow? Experience tells me it’s the one who strives to be the best they can be.

That’s not perfectionism. That’s being competent, and doing something to the best of your ability.

Which is something we should all strive for.

At the same time, recognizing that MY best, and YOUR best are different. That’s what makes up unique. And it’s an important part of not falling into paralyzing “perfectionism.”

Let’s say that you want to go back to college so you can make a much desired career change. Let’s pretend you’re 40 years old, and have not been an official student since you finished college in your early 20s. It’s easy to let fear take over, and easy to talk yourself out of following your dreams. “I’m too old.” “It’s been so long since I’ve been in school.” “I’m not sure I can do this anymore.” “I have kids. I don’t have the time for school.” One person told me that it “feels weird to be in college at the same time as my kids.” A lady I know commented, “ I have grandkids, I can’t go to college.”

Those things are allowing fear to stop you from doing what you dream of. Some would say it’s “perfectionism,” but really, it’s just fear.

One way around that is make lists. For example, on the top of the page, you write GOING TO COLLEGE. Then, list all the reasons you think you can’t.

Next, for each reason you can’t, list as many counter arguments as you can. Include reasons why you can, and ways to work around the authentic challenges.

Example — Talking about Going to College, your reason for not doing it might be “I have grandkids.” Your list counter arguments could be:

  • The grand kids might think it’s cool.
  • When I’m done, I’ll have more money to spend on the grand kids
  • Going back to school teaches the grand kids (and the kids)that you’re never too old to follow your dreams.
  • I’ll have recent college experience to share when the grand kids are ready for college.
  • Going back to college means I can talk to the grand kids about school.
  • I have a financial advantage going back to school now, because I don’t have kids at home to support.
  • Helping Grandma relearn to navigate school could bring us closer.
  • College classes will help keep my mind sharp.

There are a lot of reasons you CAN go back to school at this point in your life. You just have to look past the fear to find them.

Perfectionism as people think about it is rooted in fear. That’s it. Fear that you’re not good enough, fear that you can’t do it correctly, fear that it won’t work for you.

I think the current idea of “well, I’m imperfect, so I won’t strive for perfection because I can’t achieve that” is also rooted in fear. The — exact same fears.

Think about it. Perfectionism keeps people from trying at all. While the “I’m imperfect, so I can’t achieve perfection” keeps people from trying do to their best. It makes them accept mediocre, because they believe they can’t do any better.

Both of these approaches cause people to underachieve.

Instead, strive to do YOUR absolute best in all you do. If you’re not willing to do your best, or be your best in a task, relationship, or situation, then maybe it’s not worth doing.

Tell me your thoughts.