Perfectionism, Meet Failure


The problem with perfectionists, albeit not the only one, is their relationship with failure. They hate to fail. It evidences itself in a number of ways; some struggle with a disproportionate competitive streak or a refusal to try anything new.

Even if they master their competitiveness and learn to embrace the “new,” they still have to manage another difficulty: overcoming their perfectionism when they do fail. It’s a challenge; failure has a tendency to exacerbate their perfectionism and related feelings of disappointment, anger, and doubt.

They must learn to handle that difficulty. If they don’t, they will forever be imprisoned by their perfectionism. They have to transform the way they think and act when they fail. Instead of allowing poisonous thoughts and feelings to cloud their hearts and minds, they have to focus on what is good. They have to recognize that a single failure is not a catastrophic event. It’s a small veer off course. They just need to collect themselves, remember why they do what they do, and redirect their energies so that they can travel onward.

They also have to see their failures as learning opportunities. They didn’t meet the expectations they set for themselves? Their work wasn’t a stunning piece of excellence? They made the wrong decision? So be it. Now they can assess where they lost their way and correct their trajectory. They can relearn the importance of grace when it comes to the standards they hold for themselves. They can work to improve their talents and skills, even if that means enduring more criticism the next time they submit an assignment. They can revisit what they hold to be good, true, and honorable so that they make the right decisions in the future.

None of that is easy. It requires a minute-by-minute choice of thinking, feeling, and acting differently. Perfectionists who choose to live in that manner will be challenged, sometimes to the extreme. They will be pushed to their limits. At those times, they have to decide how they will live. Will they embrace what comes naturally to them – their perfectionism and all its baggage – or will they turn away from it and choose the unnatural course, the one of grace and transformation?

Image: David Goehring (Creative Commons)

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