Burnout to Leadership

Ep#14 Perfectionism is career-limiting - here's how to avoid it

December 24, 2021 Dex Randall Season 1 Episode 14
Burnout to Leadership
Ep#14 Perfectionism is career-limiting - here's how to avoid it
Show Notes Transcript

- What we think perfectionism does for us.
- What it really does for us.
- How perfectionism is career-limiting.
- How to reduce perfectionism.

Refs:
Perfectionism worksheet, Burnout Coach
Essentialism, Greg McKeown
Big Potential, Shawn Achor
Daring Greatly, Dare to Lead and The Power of Vulnerability TED talk, Brene Brown

Hi, everyone, my name is Dex Randall, and this is the Burnout to Leadership podcast. Where I teach professional men to recover from burnout and get back to passion and reward at work. Hello campers, how are you doing today? Here we are today, I am going to talk about perfectionism. I'm gonna let a little bit of perfectionism out of the bag, and as far as I'm concerned, persons experiencing burnout are perfectionists, end of paragraph. And you could be the exception to that. And if you are, if you're in burnout, but not a perfectionist, I would really, really love to hear from you and have you on about that. We're generally perfectionists, and how much did we think we were brilliant in that? Most of us have built a reputation on ultra high standards, exceptional work ethic, being Superman or woman. Who is it? Wonder Woman, Diana, God of the hunt. But anyway, I digress. So soon. So soon, after I only just began. But anyway, if you just can't get shit done, if your work's never good enough, if it's never finished, if you're judging yourself or others harshly, this one is for you. And by the way, I'm not so much into perfectionism anymore myself, but ironically, I did record this episode once already and the sound was so distorted, it was hard to make out what I was saying, so I did think you deserve take two. So there you go. Now, I feel like you're getting to know me a little bit. So, do you think we're gonna survive that? Okay, onwards. So perfectionism in the beginning seems like a really fantastic career strategy, and because we're typically gifted, smart, charismatic, over achieving people, perfection seems like a small step anyway. I was talking with a client last week about it, and he shared his discouragement and impatience at the inferior performance of others, and that is putting it a little bit politely. Anyway, he made me laugh at how much I could relate from my own experience. I really wasn't too patient and nice in my early career, believe me. I thought I had a mind like a steel trap, and I would sit in meetings wondering why other people were so slow to come with a solution or why they proposed a bunch of solutions that just didn't hold water. I mean, couldn't they see that? I was a little bit arrogant, to be honest. Not them, they were good, they were just engineers trying to solve the problems. But yeah, I probably wasn't too gentle. Anyway, basically, I have an unfortunately high IQ and at the time low EQ. And did you know that a higher EQ, emotional quotient or emotional intelligence, if you like, earns you on average $29,000 more in salary per year, and that's a random research fact for you. Anyway, whilst I was being so painful to my colleagues, I had no idea at all that I was a perfectionist. Not really that I was arrogant, although many people were kind enough to point that out to me. I just thought I was being logical and doing my job, and because I was very good at delivering, nobody stopped me, I just kept going. And I didn't know I had a low EQ and I was managing a team at the time, it shames me now to admit. And possibly I wasn't as brutal as I sound, but in any case, history will not tell any tales on me because that was pre Internet. So, perfectionism and the twin town of perfectionism is low self esteem. I think in USA actually, you call them sister cities, so in that case, perfectionism is actually a conjoined twin with low self esteem. Perfectionism is just fear of judgment wearing a holier than thou hat after all, really. And we want our output to be perfect simply to avoid criticism. I think you know it, I know it. I think we should just come clean on that one. But actually don't worry too much about it because it's fixable, you're not a bad person if you're a perfectionist, so it's really not a cause for self blame. You might just like to learn a new approach that will be more satisfying to you and work better. Your inner altruist, who I know is there, is gonna thank you for letting go the reins a little bit, and when I think about this, the champion of all things vulnerable and raw is Bren Brown, and I'm thinking about her books, Daring Greatly and Dare to Lead and her podcast of the same name, highly recommended for moving into a more humanist leadership style that typically generates much better, stronger results than going in alone. And no one in the past taught us this stuff, right? Particularly those of us who come from a very technical or analytical problem solving background. The transition to leadership is actually... It's not a smooth flow for most of us. But anyhow, Bren... I think Bren led the charge and her talk, the Power of Vulnerability, currently, last time I looked at 56 million views is a terrific primer. As you're also probably a little bit impatient, it's only 20 minutes long, and by the way, I don't know how she got it two minutes more than everybody else on TED, but she did. So anyway, we ride high on the crest of this wave of perfectionism often for many, many years, sometimes decades. For me, I was pretty unstoppable and I really only crashed a few decades into my reign of terror, I mean, my exceptional career in IT. High standards conversely, are a more or less harmful, and extremely beneficial aspiration, a career enhancing goal. High standards for ourselves and also for others, provided we administer in a fair, trusting, and supportive manner. And let's be clear, perfectionism isn't the 98 percentile of high standards, it's not even about quality, because perfection is subjective. One person is 100%, if somebody else is 83%, if somebody else is 16%. If you produce a work you deem invincible and release it to 10 people, you're gonna get 10 different completely valid opinions about it. Perfectionism isn't about quality, it's about perception. There isn't anything we can do to produce perfect. You know all those perfect Olympic scores where you see rows of tens? Everyone holds their breath, because no matter how superlative a performance is, they know that the score is subjective, and we can't control for that. People will either approve of our work or not, based on their own beliefs, and also don't forget, heavily influenced by their relationship with us. And not to say, by the way, the introverts will score poorly, that's not what I mean, there's no correlation about that, so don't worry about that, but do consider how much of a team player you are. Because who loves an invincible person? Where's the team work in that? According to Shawn Achor, the Harvard happiness researcher, who is my current favorite person to quote, "Small potential is the limited success you can achieve alone. Big potential is the success you can achieve only in a virtuous cycle with others." And note that I said virtuous, not vicious there. Steve Jobs, "No matter how brilliant your mind or strategy, if you're playing a solo game, you'll always lose out to a team." So, to cut to the chase, have I ruined the delusion that perfectionism is a good thing for you yet? Of course, you're very welcome to believe as you will, but people who recover from burnout are people who recover from perfectionism. And this can be a huge source of happiness and satisfaction to them. Perhaps you yourself could find evidence that perfectionism causes untold suffering in yourself and in other people. And it is a marvellous destroyer of good work, relationships and teamwork. It's the source of much of our impatience and intolerance of others. I can't tell you how much I don't miss it from the other side. So, what to do then, if you suspect that you may be a perfectionist? Just kidding, you'll know for how much it hurts you on a daily basis, if that's you. Anyway, here's the way I see it. Since perfectionism loses us untold hours to procrastination it's just math deciding to resolve it. We can start with our schedule. How I schedule is, one hour at a time by the result I commit to achieving in

that hour. And when I say commit, if it's a 9:

00 AM task,

I will start promptly at 9:

00 AM, I'll spend half an hour noting out the quickest solution that I can, then a further half an hour tidying it

up, printing it out and finish promptly at 10:

00, so I know I've got a result. And that's what I commit to, and my commitment to myself has become these days extremely important to me, because my relationship with myself is very important to me. And when I schedule, I don't leave time for a ton of research. I think, "How quickly can I complete the task at B minus quality level?" As swiftly as possible, because the only person who wants it to be flawless is me, pretty much everyone else just wants to get it done. And typically, if someone else wants a result from me, they want to complete it on time to a usable standard, fit for purpose. The last mythical few percentage points producing this undetectable improvement are not usually important to them. And releasing myself from the hours sweating over a completed task, worrying if it's good enough to release or not, well, that gives me a lot of benefits. I can keep my commitments to others, my work days are actually much shorter. I've got way greater productivity. My inbox is not bulging to overflowing with unattended work. My to do list is coming back under control, I don't piss people off so much, people don't piss me off so much. People aren't hanging on forever waiting for responses from me. People come to know me as reliable to deliver what I said I would. People come to me knowing I'm going to give them a quicker turn around. I get time to do other jobs I enjoy, and thus my contribution is maximised. I've got more time to invest in relationship building. My reputation improves. I get better work handed to me as a result, and then my career prospects improve. Tasks become challenges instead of chores. I stop dreading going to work. I don't have to work nights. My family and friends get more air time because I'm not frazzled at the end of the day. I worry less and sleep better. My health improves. And guess what? A B minus result turns out to be at least an A plus result once I'm done with it. After all, I'm producing it from the same brain with the same knowledge as the perfectionist me, but with much reduced procrastination, snacking, other bad habits, without the endless fafage, fatigue, stress, and annoyance. And remember, in stress, the mind biologically can't produce its best work. When I'm in stress, fight or flight, my powers of concentration, memory and problem solving are all impaired. I won't be in creative flow, it's impossible. No wonder then, if it takes me all day and I get home tired and irritable, still worrying about it, feeling less than. I teach and coach a lot on perfectionism, just for the general blight on happiness and success that it is. I want my clients to be free to thrive and do good work, and also in their families with their friends and out in the world, have a little bit of a better time as well. So conquering perfectionism I think, plays an important role in all of that. If you're thinking that's gonna be a tough road for you, by the way, and you want help, come and talk to me. But just know that really it isn't, it's just breaking a long standing habit and dealing with the emotions that come up with you as you do that. And all of that is exactly what we do in coaching. So I recommend these exercises to start you off, and I'm just gonna run you through them, but don't worry if you wish you could write them down, there is a worksheet with all the questions on it in the Episode show notes, which you will find on the podcast. So, exercise number one, sit quietly by yourself sometime and write down first what the benefits of perfectionism are for you. What's the pay off? What value does it add? And second, what the benefits are for you of turning our high quality, professional, completed work over perfectionism? Try to be as honest as you can whilst just ignoring the voice telling you that only perfection will do. Think about what outcome you want to achieve. Who are you trying to satisfy? What result do they actually want? And think about what outcomes you actually get when you're being a perfectionist? Okay, exercise number two, ask yourself when you're in perfectionist mode, "What am I scared of? What's the terrible thing that will happen when I turn in a supposedly imperfect piece of work?" And honestly, what are the odds of that actually happening? And even if it did, so what? People judge us more by their relationship with us than by our work. They can be much more forgiving if we're on good terms with them. Well, unless we're neurosurgeons or magistrates or something like that. Exercise number three, who taught me to be a perfectionist? I like to consider who taught me that this was the proper way to be. And I look back at my childhood and my earliest influences for that. Who told me the only my best was good enough? Who wanted me to be perfect? Or who told me I never could be good enough or try hard enough? Who told me I was stupid, or would never amount to anything? Because whatever teaching we learned as a kid, we don't have to keep them now. They're just thoughts somebody implanted in our brains. If we don't like them, we can swap them out, find new, more supportive and accepting thoughts about our own worthiness. And only we can do this work, no one can do it for us, because only we can heal our relationship with ourselves and decide to approve of ourselves. Exercise four. If anything in what I've said today resonates with you, look also at why and how perfectionism has served you? Because at some point in the past it did, or you wouldn't have kept doing it, right? So don't blame yourself for being a perfectionist. It was in all chances a survival strategy for you at some point, and you're only human. Be tremendously kind and gentle with yourself. Exercise number five. Do I actually want to let perfectionism go for a new and different experience with myself and my work? What would change for me? Really let yourself go on that one. That's sometimes a difficult exercise to do. Shawn Achor in his book Big Potential said, "Now I realized that I want Leo," that's his son, "to be like my father. I don't just want him to be happy, but also to make everyone around him happier, to not only be creative, but to make everyone around him more creative, to not only be successful, but to make everyone around him more successful." Alright, that's what I got for you today. Thank you for listening. I'm grateful to you as ever for being here. You can visit my website to burnouttoleadership.com, for the show notes and the worksheet will be there too. Please subscribe, rate, or comment on the podcast. Or I don't know, just be generally appreciative of the podcast if you'd like it. I would be very grateful for that. I am looking for a couple of extra subscribers, if you'd like to share the love, and particularly anybody you suspect of being a little bit burnt out around the edges, or in fact, being a perfectionist. See you again next time. If you're in burnout and ready to recover, come and join my Burnout to Leadership program. You can book in to talk with me at burnout.dexrandall.com. Just tell me what's bugging you, and let's make our plan to fix it.