Perfectionism gets a bad rap. In our first post in this two-part series, we wrote about how focusing on the downside of perfectionism – and trying to “fix” it – is the wrong approach. In that post, we shared insights and tips from one of our favorite perfectionists, Maribel Cruz, encouraging people to embrace perfectionism as a strength and use it to optimize their own performance.
Today, we share insights and tips from another of our favorite perfectionists, Christie Calkins Stukenholtz, as she reflects on helpful strategies and lessons learned in the multiple stages she went through to finish a big project to her satisfaction – writing hundreds of thank you notes after her wedding. Here’s Christie’s story:
Hi, my name is Christie, and I’m a thriving perfectionist. If that sounds like a line you would use with a therapist, you’re right. But perfectionism isn’t a flaw. I’m proud of it.
I live by my calendar and I make a list for everything. I lay out what I’ll need for my day the night before and I make my bed every morning. Every single morning. When I was asked to write this blog post, I agreed, knowing how difficult it would be for me to bring it across the finish line. Knowing it wouldn’t be perfect.
I recently got married and was faced with the daunting task of writing a few hundred thank you notes. Perfect thank you notes. Thank you notes that would deliver just the right message, that would capture our gratitude not only for the gifts but for the relationship and the impact each person had on our lives. I was frozen. How would that be possible in a few short sentences? I could feel my perfectionism taking over. These could not be average thank you notes. They had to be just right.
How did I recognize and manage it?
Instead of sitting down and writing the thank you notes, I put it off. I have difficulty bringing projects to completion. I leave projects unfinished because I’d rather have them unfinished than put my name on something that’s less than perfect.
- Set small goals to check off.
- Take a step back and evaluate what is within your control.
When my husband offered to help write them, I wasn’t willing to give up control. I want to do everything myself. Why risk it not being done correctly by someone else if I know I can do it right the first time?
- Delegate. Yes, I said it. A perfectionist’s worst nightmare.
- Understand that if you continue to spend your time in this space, you are likely to miss out on great growth opportunities.
- When you delegate, recognize that this is a great form of investing in others and letting them know you trust them.
- Accept that there will be mistakes.
When I wrote the first few, I went over and over the parts that didn’t sound just right. I rarely celebrate a job well-done because I am replaying in my head what I wish I would have done better.
- Instead, focus on what went well. How can you make sure and do more of what went right?
- How can you establish best practices and share them with others?
If we lived in a black and white world, being a perfectionist would be easy. Everything would always be in harmony and the path to success would be very clear. Unfortunately, the world is not that way, and we must learn how to live and find satisfaction in the ambiguous grey zone.
- Find people in your circle who do not get caught up in the details. Find the dreamers, the strategists and the friends that will pull you out of your rut and help remind you of the larger “why” behind whatever it is you’re doing.
- Own your perfectionism. Share it with others so they know it is a strength. If you celebrate it, they will too.
- Set high standards for yourself and others. Use this to inspire excellence in those around you.
So, the thank you notes… They got written. Perfectly imperfect. My husband helped me come up with the words and we got them done together. And we made sure to celebrate with a glass of champagne! Now I’m on to the next item on my list… planning the perfect vacation!
Larry Sternberg and Kim Turnage are authors of Managing to Make a Difference (Wiley), a handbook for hitting the sweet spot of middle management. Christie Calkins Stukenholtz is Director of Client Relationship Managers at Talent Plus, and her perfectionism creates excellence every day. This is Part Two in a two-part series on perfection. Click here for Part One.