Throughout my career (and life) I learned to believe that being a perfectionist was a negative thing. I am here to declare that perfectionism is in fact not a bad word. I have come to realize that in helping me embrace my imperfections I needed to recognize and celebrate my perfectionism.
Let me explain how I came to this epiphany. It started as I was developing a presentation around the topic of perfectionism and in my research I discovered many layers to perfectionism.
One that resonated strongly with me was that there are both negative and positive aspects to being a perfectionist. Without the positive aspects I probably would not be where I am today. But more impactful was learning about the negative aspects. The negative does allow us to appreciate the positive and both help make us who we are today.
I found that acceptance and peace is connecting with both side of perfectionism, so let’s take a look at them. First the positive aspects-
- Provides a driving energy which can lead to great achievement. I don’t think there is a veterinarian out there that does not agree that without this drive getting into vet school, let alone making it through even our first semester of vet school might not have happened.
- Meticulous attention to detail. One word here – Anesthesia. In this profession looking for those small pieces of information that could make or break a critical situation is paramount.
- Commitment. The Human Animal Bond allowed me to sink deep, but it was also the air in my balloons that lifted me up. A balance in commitment was crucial in helping me find resilience in this profession.
- Persistence. Sure, this was needed for my training, but it also has served me well in other areas of my life. I have had a number of challenges outside vet med related to my health and this trait helps me to find solutions to keep moving forward.
Now let’s look at the negative aspects-
- Perfection Paralysis. This gets me ALL the TIME! What’s the point of starting something if you aren’t certain you can do it 100% perfect?
- Self-deprecation used to excuse poor performance. We all know this, we miss one question on our biology test and oh boy, we should give up now because we are too inept to become a veterinarian.
Sympathy seeking from other people to excuse poor performance. As a student this took form in wanting to find commiseration at how ridiculous the syllabus and test schedule was and my impending failure surely wasn’t my fault.
- Feeling constant pressure to meet high standards. My daily to do list is ridiculously long. There is no way I can get all of that done, yet every day I add to it and tell myself how inadequate I am that I don’t complete all the tasks.
- Cognitive dissonance. This is that space where we can’t believe new information because it means that we have been wrong. The best example I know is from the 1840s when Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis of Vienna shared with his fellow medical community that washing their hands could radically reduce complication for their patients. He was laughed at and criticized all the way into an insane asylum yet today we would never think of not washing our hands between patients. There I stood with this information, and the epiphany hit – being a perfectionist is not a bad thing; It is learning to recognize, embrace and then connect with both the positive and negative.
Taking the time to understand and accept my paralysis, personal cognitive dissonance, and sympathy seeking allowed me, the space I had been looking for to find forgiveness and compassion for myself.
I embrace and celebrate my perfectionism today. I no longer criticize this part of me and I share this in hopes that this story helps you on your own “perfect” journey.
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