Letting Go of the Notion of Control: Perfectionism

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Perfectionism (term from Merriam-Webster Dictionary):

: a disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable; especially : the setting of unrealistically demanding goals accompanied by a disposition to regard failure to achieve them as unacceptable and a sign of personal worthlessness.

After reading the definition of Perfectionism it kind of makes you wonder why anyone would do something like this to themselves.  In trying to be a leader, I held myself to the unrealistic goal of being perfect at whatever I did!  Young and dumb I guess, but I always thought of it in the way that if I were willingly going to follow a leader, that is how I pictured them being.  At the time, I believed that all the mentors I looked up to while growing up were standards of Perfectionism, or at least I thought they were.  I figured that the only way I could get others’ respect was to be perfect at everything in which I was trying to lead others.  It became a standard of accountability I put on myself based on my perception of being a leader.

An example of this in my young life was my sporting career.  In high school, I was a mental wreck inside, even though I had an aura of confidence or arrogance suggesting that I believed in myself.  All through my young sports career, I kept excelling and excelling until I got to about the 10th grade in high school.  I hit a major brick wall in that I was trying to become perfect at everything.  Ultimately, this limited my progression due to my major fear of failure, screwing up, or making a wrong decision, and this in turn caused an overwhelming sensation of pressure.  This pressure plagued my sports life for at least the next 4 – 6 years both into college and into my professional career with horses and people.

The second example is from after college while I was working at C Lazy U seasonally and later full time.  Not only did I run into some huge issues with the horses, but, based on the standards to which I held myself, I just assumed everyone else had the same standards.  Talk about trying to micromanage and control the way people and horses are – almost as difficult as trying to mold a soldier to the point where you tell him not to be himself anymore.  As you can imagine, the learning curve was quite steep in my progression in both leadership and horsemanship.  I was butting heads with all the horses and people I worked with.  I look back and laugh about it now, but back then I was determined to make some huge positive changes in everything by means of Perfectionism.  The difference between my sports career and my professional career was that I at least invited failure in the latter.

Finally, I started to listen to where people and horses were coming from in order to move forward together towards the greater goals.  I learned to spend the most time with people who were interested in the bigger picture and allowed those who were there to enjoy the experience of a summer to take it all in for what it is worth in that sense too.  I can’t express the joy I had the last few years spent there based on just understanding where people and horses were at and where they were looking to go!  Little by little, I let go of my need for complete perfection and control over everything.

I still battle Perfectionism every day, but I am more aware of the consequences derived from it and know when Perfectionism wants to creep back into my life and try to take control of me again.  It is important to think on the other end of the spectrum too some people deal with not being aware of the finer details or not holding their standards high enough for themselves and others.  That, too, can be a difficult task to overcome.

Here is a quote from Edwin Bliss brought to my attention by a great mentor and friend:

The pursuit of excellence is gratifying and healthy. The pursuit of perfection is frustrating and neurotic. It’s also a terrible waste of time.

 

Application to Daily Life:

Go back through your past or current life to see if you have had any moments where Perfectionism controlled your life and how it affected everything.  Did your Perfectionism cause you to be too hard on yourself and others?  Did you expect too much in an unreasonable time period?  Based on your perception of what you desired the outcome to be, did you push others too far instead of being ok with the progression that others could make in a specific time period?  These are just a few questions that come to my mind about Perfectionism, but there are countless others too.  I would love to hear some examples of how Perfectionism or the lack thereof has affected your life, how you have learned to let go or get past these problems, and/or how you’re currently dealing with these issues.  Please leave comments or stories below!

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