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What is the Cost of your Perfectionism?

high-achievers perfectionism shame Nov 19, 2022
Fall Leaves by Matt on Unsplash

Perfectionists, myself included, often believe that perfectionism is necessary. If we don’t focus on self-improvement and big goals, then people might find out how *imperfect* we are: not smart enough, not thin enough, not nice enough. And many perfectionists may not even believe  that they are perfectionists because they aren’t _______ enough. But when we use the habit of perfectionism, we may succeed in hiding these flaws.

And yet, perfectionists can be high performing. Many Physicians are perfectionists and feel that this habit allows them to pay exquisite attention to details that are necessary for safety, for excellent patient care. Perfectionism helped them study, helped them on rounds, helped them score a good residency spot and get a good job, right?

Yes, it probably did help with that. But it also probably came with a lot of baggage. Fear of failure, fear of disappointing others, inability to relax, difficulty connecting with others outside of work.

Studies do show that perfectionists often do well in terms of academics, and test scores. They often set big goals and show great ambition. But as the stakes get higher, and the milestones harder to accomplish, they will often also find themselves riddled with shame and fear, and this can keep them stuck, unable to make progress in case they can’t make it. Worse than not trying for the promotion/raise/successful small business, would be to try and fail. And not just to fail, but to fail publicly.

So if you know that you too wrestle with perfectionism, the question then becomes is it still helpful? Is it still necessary? Or is it possible that you, the highly trained, hardworking, high-achiever that you are, is capable of doing well without it. Can you choose curiosity instead of blame when something goes wrong? Can you learn to set boundaries for yourself that give you the time and space to perform the tasks that require your level of expertise, and let other people learn to do tasks that support your performance and help their growth?

Because if you choose perfectionism, and the resultant fear of failure and shame that keeps you staying small, you are likely also choosing resentment and frustration. You also may find yourself unable to move forward, unable to make decisions, unable to start a passion project because you need more information, more time, more resources, the baby to be older, the wind to be blowing southward, etc. Perfectionism keeps us stuck and afraid.

Giving up perfectionism isn’t easy. It involves understanding where it pops up for you, how it has helped you, and how it’s harming you. That doesn’t mean that you need hours of self-exploration, but it does involve choosing to spend time reflecting, practicing self-curiosity without blame or judgment, and failure. It’s a process, and not an event.

But the truth is, that we can make a choice. Perfectionism is a habit, and not a fixed personality trait. It has been learned and honed over years, but it can be unlearned as well.

In other words, choose your hard. Choose perfectionism, fear of failure, resentment, or choose curiosity, self-reflection, failure and persistence. Chances are, you have tried the former, and you know what it has done for you and to you. Are you willing to see what you can accomplish without it?

Hi There!

I'm Megan. I'm a Physician and a Life Coach and a Mom. I created this blog to help other Physicians and Physician-Moms learn more about why they feel exhausted, burned-out and overwhelmed, and how to start to make changes. I hope that you enjoy what you read, and that it helps you along your journey. And hey, if you want to talk about coaching with me, I'm here for that too! I offer a free 1:1 call to see if we are a good fit. Click the button below to register today.

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