I used to be immobilized by perfectionist thinking, from childhood into middle age, unable to move forward on important things. My introversion and high sensitivity played a role in it, but perfectionism is not a personality trait. I found a cure for perfectionism and can say that I’m now a recovering perfectionist.
Perfectionism still shows up for me, like a pothole in the road, but it doesn’t *usually* get in my way anymore. I’ve learned to steer around it. I feel freed up, even while staying alert to avoid the pitfalls.
I’ll explain with some facts and stories in this post, including how perfectionism can be connected to introversion and high sensitivity. By the way, I still get to prefer high quality output, and take my time to deliberate. Turns out you can do that without getting lost in the weeds… as often. Progress not perfection. 😁
What Helped Me Escape the Perfectionist Cage
I was always drawn to dancing and I eventually took swing dance lessons as one way to get more involved. I really enjoyed it and wanted to get better but I kept having this nagging worry about looking goofy in front of others. The perfectionist in me held me in chains, not moving freely.
One day when I was feeling very determined to get better at dancing, I realized I would have to allow the feeling of looking “bad” at it in order to get better. It was oddly freeing just to embrace the idea that it was a necessary step.
I tried it, felt awkward briefly and then felt better almost right away. It surprised me. I even went so far as to compete in swing dancing and did pretty well! That “ok to look bad” plan was the turning point.
Escaping Perfectionism when Starting My Business
When I was starting my coaching business, I could feel myself holding back again, worried about how I would look in public, and this time, my livelihood was on the line. That made the fear quite intense. It gave me nightmares.
Once again, good ol’ Perfectionism wanted me to stay safe, which I finally realized was a way of saying “don’t do anything new.” That’s a cage, and I was pushing against the edges and getting uncomfortable inside it.
When I was first starting my business, I could barely publish anything on my website. A new colleague said, “You better deal with your perfectionism because it will kill your business.” That woke me up. So I did the work, because I was determined.
I drew on that earlier lesson with dancing, and took on a motto for the year, “Embrace Messy.” It felt like a permission slip. All year I kept tuning into “Embrace Messy” permission and it drew me forward, into more freedom and more joy — and my business benefited too!
Once again my brain was surprised by the positive effect. Allowing “messy” was somehow the perfect thing for my perfectionist mind. So I kept going, little by little.
Perfectionism Attacks Are Common When Starting a Business
Many of my self-employed colleagues tell me they’ve gone through something similar. We share this feeling that stepping into self-employment has been a big personal growth experience, because we have had to face the forces inside us that worry so much about how we come across in public.
If you want to have a business, or do anything where you share your voice, you might as well get used to the idea of being imperfect in public and get it over with. Take a gulp, and go forth and be messy (gradually). Notice what happens.
It’s like diving into cool water and it only stings for a moment or two, and then the water is so refreshing and you can move so effortlessly. What’s so hard at first can lead to the biggest joy. I think that’s how it works with joy.
Perfectionism in Introverts and HSPs – a Connection
Being introverted and/or being a highly sensitive person (HSP) can make us more vulnerable to chronic perfectionism or people-pleasing.
We have a heightened awareness of others’ needs and perspectives, and we are deep thinkers. That combination gives us lots of time inside our heads to build up thoughts about what others think. If we’re not careful it can turn into useless worry and head-spin.
But we can still get past that.
Perfectionism is not a trait. It’s a reaction we can overcome, with conscious effort. The freedom is worth the effort!
Inspiration from Nature
Here’s a fun story from this past Autumn that had a good reminder in it for me. It was chilly and threatening rain but we headed out anyway for a hike in the peak fall foliage in the Adirondack Mountains. When we pulled up to the trailhead, it was cold pouring rain, with no end in sight.
My spouse was ready to skip it, and I was tempted to go along with that. We had had a mishap the day before (stuck in the cold) that was probably giving us extra pause.
But some determination pulled me forward. I said I was going to try it anyway. Luckily he joined me.
It turned out we were warm and dry enough, the forest was a good canopy for the rain. And then… the sun came out just in time for unbelievable views at the top. Wow.
This photo shows our better-than-expected reward for going forward anyway, in imperfect conditions. We had to laugh at ourselves for almost missing this. May this view be a good reminder for saying no to our cautious parts that think they know best:
5 Facts about Perfectionism and Overcoming It
- It’s not a permanent feature of your personality!
- It will stop you from reaching your dreams if you don’t address it.
- Being introverted and/or being a highly sensitive person can make us more vulnerable to chronic perfectionism or people-pleasing. It’s part of having a heightened awareness of others’ needs and perspectives.
- We can keep our big hearts, and not get lost in perfectionism.
- Sometimes we need a little reboot to get past the grip of perfectionist thoughts.
Now I’m a Recovering Perfectionist…
I’m no longer immobilized by perfectionist thinking, which used to make me unable to move forward on important things because it wasn’t “ready enough”, “good enough”, “what will people think?”, and all that. You know the drill.
I did a lot of work to tame that inner block. It was all worth it.
It’s not perfectly gone, ha. But it’s in check. It doesn’t stop me, usually. Not for the big things at least.
I still might be slower than others to publish a new article, for instance, but I’m still publishing. It’s gotten faster and faster with time. Ready, set, go publish this post, Val.
I’m also OK about all the articles I started and didn’t finish. That’s part of my recovery too. “Oh well” is a new motto.