Today’s guest post comes from Angela Schenk, a Success Coach for Bold Introverts, a writer, and the founder of Quiet Creative, LLC. She is focused on helping Bold Introverts—the quiet ones who have something to say—get their ideas out of their heads and into the world.
In one of my Mom’s old albums, there’s a photo of me in dance class when I was around four or five years old. The sight of it used to leave me feeling broken and embarrassed. Why? Because I was doing the wrong move. There’s a line of leotard-clad little girls all doing the same thing. And then there’s me doing something else entirely. For years, when I turned the page and saw the photo, I’d feel the urge to peel back the protective film and slip it behind another picture. There was a way things were supposed to be done—a perfect way—and here was concrete evidence that I wasn’t living up. This amounted to nothing short of a glaring character flaw in my mind.
Here’s the thing, the picture is completely adorable when you take the perfectionist goggles off. It shows this creative little soul marching to the beat of her own accordion, everyone else’s opinions be damned. I now take great pleasure in the thought that we are one and the same.
It was not an easy process getting to this new vantage point. Coming to understand the dynamics of my introverted, intuitive personality was a big help, but it was still a lot of work. That kind of sticky inner work that requires you to face down your demons while they give you incredulous stares and ask, “So, can I devour you now?” I decided I’d rather not become lunch.
The process kicked into high gear a few years ago when I took part in a leadership development program. One of the modules prompted us to identify our core values. Want to guess what I chose as my top-pick? Yep, perfectionism. I not only owned that I was a perfectionist, I wore it like a badge of honor.
Over time though I saw how perfectionism was robbing me of joy and keeping me in a state of perpetual inaction. Fear that my results would never live up to my ideal vision prevented me from moving forward. It was a huge revelation when I realized how hard I was fighting to defend my enemy. I had reached a point where I was essentially saying, “You can have this thing that is killing me when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers!” (a sentiment usually reserved for my fourth cup of coffee). It was time for a change.
I leaned into my understanding of personality to help me through, understanding that different personality types experience perfectionism in different ways. INFJs are notorious for it, but INFPs are not immune.
For the Counselors (INFJs) and Masterminds (INTJs), much of the struggle arises from the push-pull battle between their dominant Introverted Intuition and their inferior—but aspirational—Extroverted Sensing. They have these big, beautiful ideas handed to them by their intuition and they are excited to see them actualized in the real world. However, they struggle to release their white-knuckle grip on the outcome and thus get pulled into a cycle of inaction. Rather than implementing their ideas and embracing the motto “done is better than perfect,” they stay in perpetual information-gathering mode. They tell themselves they will get to the execution phase “when they’re ready.” However, there’s always more to learn, so “ready” never comes.
For INFPs, their high standards—especially in regards to creative self-expression—have to align with their deeply-held sense of integrity. When these things don’t align perfectly, it can prevent them from ever beginning at all. INFPs can buckle under the pressure of self-doubt and lack of faith in their ability to make the right choices.
You might be wondering if perfectionism can ever be a good thing. The short answer is, no. “But what about airplanes and medication dosages!” you protest. “Don’t we want perfectionists to be in charge of those things?” Again, no. Those are examples of having high-standards and keen attention to detail. It can be easy to confuse the two, but there is a difference. A perfectionist may never build the plane to begin with, suffocating instead under a pile of concept sketches, never actually attempting flight. It is only through trying our ideas out in the real world that we can make them better. The same is true for airplanes, paintings, entrepreneurship, and writing (it’s called a shitty first draft for a reason).
So how do we know if we’ve crossed the threshold from high standards to perfectionism? The simplest question to ask is “Am I moving?” Are you putting brush to canvas? Pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard)? Are you building something? Are you exploring (no, internet research doesn’t count), expanding, innovating, and creating?
If you are, then let your high standards propel you towards mastery.
If you aren’t, ask that voice in your head telling you to hesitate to kindly pipe down. And begin. Make bad art. Write terrible stories. Watch plans crumble under pressure. And begin, again.
I’ll leave you with my new motto, one that is perfect for a recovering perfectionist. It’s a favorite quote from Samuel Beckett that I do my best to live up to every day: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”
The world needs what you have to offer. Don’t let perfectionism keep it from us.
Angela Schenk is a Success Coach for Bold Introverts, writer, and founder of Quiet Creative, LLC. She is focused on helping Bold Introverts—the quiet ones who have something to say—get their ideas out of their heads and into the world. You can find out more about Angela at www.quietcreativecoaching.com.