Are you a perfectionist? Or are you more of a done-is-better-than-perfect kinda person? We tend to put people in either of these baskets (perfectionists vs non-perfectionists) based on how painfully precise they work. Dotting each “I” and crossing each “T”? Yup, you are a perfectionist. That is how we label others – and ourselves. That is the definition of “perfectionism” we use.
But maybe more of us are perfectionists, and don’t even realise it. What if we looked at perfectionism from a different angle? What if it is not only about how you perform tasks (perfect performance) but rather what we expect from ourselves and others? What if perfectionism is more about expectations than performance?
Here’s a scenario: You have a tight schedule today. You need to have that meeting with that prospective client at 9:30AM, after dropping the kids off at school. You expect that meeting to be over and done with, within two hours. That means you have a maximum of 30 minutes to get over to your client, for your scheduled midday meeting. After your client meeting – which you expect to only take an hour – you need to have lunch with your best friend at 1:30PM. And at 3PM you need to pick up the kids from school again. Oh, and of course you need to catch up with emails and voicemails somewhere during the day too. Jam-packed. The average day for many, I think.
But here’s the thing: if you have a tight schedule like this, you are in effect, a perfectionist. You expect everything during the day to run perfectly. You are not expecting the unexpected. You expect (from yourself and everyone else you’ll encounter during the day) perfectionism.
But what if (even if you see yourself as a perfectionist) someone else in your world today, is not a perfectionist? What if life happens? How will it impact your perfectly scheduled day?
What if you encounter road works just outside your child’s school? You know, one of those 4-ways temporary traffic light systems that seem to take forever!? And it has gridlocked the road you need to take to your 9:30AM meeting? Which now results in you only getting there at 9:50AM? Ok, so life happened and you apologise to your prospective client, feeling a bit frazzled. You get right on with the meeting, trying to talk a bit faster to make up time, but it still only concludes just after 11:30AM. But that’s ok, you think, because you still have 22 minutes to get to your next meeting. And you make it! At exactly midday you walk into your client’s office, feeling smug. However, your client isn’t great with time management and is busy on a conference call when you arrive. So you wait. And wait. (At least you can catch up with emails and voicemails while you wait.) By 12:35PM you realise that your lunch with your friend is flying out the window. So you cancel by text, feeling guilty. Good thing too because you only leave your client’s office, after the meeting, at 2PM. Which leaves you just enough time to hit the McDonalds drive-through for lunch, on your way across town to pick up the kids (oh, and those road works are still going on!).
Jam-packed schedules require perfectionism from yourself and all those around you. It requires everything to run absolutely smoothly without “life happening”. There is no space for anything going wrong. There is no space for the unexpected.
But we all know that the unexpected should very much be expected. The unexpected has a tendency to turn up, well, unexpectedly. And we need to be ready for it. We need to expect the unexpected. We need to stop relying on everyone and everything being perfectly perfect. We need to have less tight schedules if we want to be less stressed.