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5 Lessons From a Recovering Perfectionist

But as a recovering perfectionist, I no longer see the value in spending hours, days, or years trying to get everything just right, all the time. Here are five tips that have helped me reach this point of liberation:
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Man cutting grass with scissors
Man cutting grass with scissors

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At various points in my life, striving for perfection occupied a lot of my time and energy.

Remember that scene, for example, from the movie A Christmas Story where Ralphie imagines his teacher so in awe of his theme paper that she gives him an A++++? I can recall back in high school spending hours upon hours working on a paper hoping not only for an A, but for a stamp of perfection, and perhaps that same teacher reaction Ralphie envisioned.

Things didn't change much in college, where I felt the stakes were even higher. "Just get it good enough," someone would tell me, and I would nod and smile and inwardly cringe. "Good enough" sounded like a four-letter word.

Even in adulthood, as an established business owner, I can think of many times when I've stared at the computer screen an inordinately long time before clicking "Send," or I've refrained from inviting someone over because my house was a mess, or I've stayed up too late laboring over a presentation that was complete days earlier but that I continued to tweak.

These, by the way, are not moments I remember fondly.

Don't get me wrong: I believe in excellence; it's a high value of mine. I thrive in a space of mastery, whether my own or experiencing someone else's.

But as a recovering perfectionist, I no longer see the value in spending hours, days, or years trying to get everything just right, all the time. Here are five tips that have helped me reach this point of liberation:

1. Practice selective perfectionism.
You may want some things - top priorities - to be as close to perfect as possible. Designate extra time and effort for those few items, and be willing to lower the bar on others. For example, providing excellent coaching and always growing my coaching skills is a high priority for me, whereas dusting my furniture is not. You will find lots of time in my schedule dedicated to coaching and very little (typically zero, to be exact) to dusting.

2. Consider your "audience."

The biggest game-changer for me came when I had children. Do I want to model constantly-striving-never-enough for my kids? Or rather model hard work coupled with contentment, peace, and satisfaction in showing up and doing my best? I'd prefer they learn self-kindness from my example, and letting go of perfectionism helps. Plus, parenting is a universal humbling agent anyway, isn't it?

3. Adopt a mantra.
So simple, but I seriously cannot emphasize enough how much this helps. "Done is better than perfect," I read in Sheryl Sandberg's book, Lean In, and promptly posted in my office. "Progress not perfection" pops into my mind frequently. "Be kinder than necessary" says a piece of art on our mantel, and in my mind it applies to ourselves as well as others.

4. Learn the lessons of imperfection.

When you're imperfect, people can relate and connect with you. When you're imperfect, you learn more clearly what matters most. When you're imperfect - and o.k. with your imperfections - you relax, smile, and enjoy work and life more. Our imperfections can serve a purpose if we pay attention to, and accept, them.

5. Get it perfect enough.

As previously mentioned, "good enough" sounded like a cop-out to me. But when I saw a book years ago titled Perfect Enough, I instantly knew (without even reading the book) that was a concept I could accept. What are you working on? It may not be perfect - but is it perfect enough?

Here's the crazy thing: Contrary to my preconceived notion, when I let go of my perfectionist expectations, my results actually improved. I didn't suddenly become apathetic, lazy, or sub-par at everything as I feared I might. Instead, I practiced self-compassion, reminded myself of these five lessons, and saw growth in nearly every aspect of my work and life.

I am still in perfectionism recovery (I am not a perfect imperfectionist yet!), and I still catch myself holding myself to ridiculous standards from time to time. But over the years, those times have lessened, and I've experienced a lot more joy, built stronger relationships, gotten more accomplished, and gained more sleep as a result.

If perfectionism has a grip on you, I invite you to join me in recovery. And if you notice a typo or grammatical error in this article, please let it go. I've deemed it "perfect enough."

Dr. Christi Hegstad is a certified and award-winning leadership coach, author, and trainer helping professionals live, lead, and work with meaning and purpose. Learn more about her and her coaching and training firm, MAP Professional Development Inc., at www.meaning-and-purpose.com and Facebook.