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Designing your best life is a wonderful goal to shoot for, but many of us confuse that with having a perfect life. We get hung up on all the details, trying to make sure everything is just right. We tell ourselves it has to be the right time or the best circumstances before we’re ready to try something new or make a change.
We let perfectionism hold us back.
If you feel you fall into this trap, keep listening and learn how you can design your best life without waiting for it to be perfect.
Perfectionism is a destructive compliment
It gets lots of credit for greatness in our society, but it can wreck people, even though we use the term like it’s a great compliment. In reality, perfectionism destroys much more than it creates.
Perfectionism is a cover-up, a way to avoid failure, a hopeless attempt to avoid rejection by performing at an impossibly flawless level all the time. Perfectionism binds people to unrealistic standards. It’s a guarantee of constant disappointment.
“Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.”
― Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection
Let’s find Out If You Are a Perfectionist?
- Do you think in absolute terms? Things are either great or terrible, black or white, happy or sad? Perfectionists tend to think in opposites, while others think along a continuum.
- Does one small flaw in something you’re doing make you feel it’s worthless?
- You can’t delegate because you just know others won’t do the job right?
- You’re often late getting work in on time. Do you wait to turn in a project so you make it perfect?
- Does your self-image and self-confidence depend on your accomplishments and what everybody thinks?
- Do you recognize your errors and focus on those far more than your successes?
- After a success, are feelings of accomplishment fleeting or not at all?
How’d you do? Did you answer yes to many of these?
First Let’s Consider What’s at Stake
When you get caught up in feeling like things have to be just right, take a minute to consider the stakes. Ask yourself the following questions:
What will I miss out on if I wait until things are perfect?
What opportunities am I giving up?
What’s it costing me to not pursue my dreams
Often, these simple reflections will be enough to push you toward going after your goal, rather than waiting for a better time.
Second, Know It’s Not All or Nothing
The all-or-nothing trap is one that is common. This is the belief that you have to have all the resources in place or know everything there is to know before taking on a task. This line of thinking is false. It’s simply a way of getting caught up in the cycle of perfectionism and remaining stuck in place. Start Taking baby steps and give it a try even if you don’t have everything in place. Often things come together on their own.
What baby step towards your dream can you take today?
Third, Change Your Self-Talk
If perfectionism is holding you back from designing your best life, chances are good that you’re probably sending yourself some negative messages. Listen to what your inner critic is saying to you the next time you decide that you shouldn’t do something and then see if you cannot turn that message around. If you hear yourself saying that you’ll never get the life of your dreams because you’re not good enough, try giving yourself some realistic reasons why you might just have what it takes and what actions you can take to get the life you want. Refuting negative self-talk can go a long way to stopping perfectionism in its tracks.
Here are some ideas for what to say to yourself:
— Good enough really is good enough
— Having fun is not a reward I have to earn
— Asking for help is a good thing
— I can not control everything so I can focus on what I can control
— I accept myself just as I am
“Healthy striving is self-focused: “How can I improve?” Perfectionism is other-focused: “What will they think?”
― Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection
Finally, Start Before You’re Ready
Try embracing imperfection and see what happens. The next time you want to do something different or step out of your comfort zone, but don’t think you’re ready, just go for it. Pay attention to how you feel and what it’s like to push past those feelings. Note the end result. Maybe things won’t turn out perfectly, but you may discover they end up being worthwhile anyway.
Keep these steps in mind the next time your inner perfectionist tries to sabotage you and keep you from designing your best life. You may be surprised at the results.
Are You an Overly Positive Person?
Okay, so let’s say that somehow you have been able to surround yourself with people who never say anything negative about your work; you live in a very tiny, happy bubble. Let’s say all you every allowed yourself to hear is, “Wow, that is amazing. You are so talented. Bravo!” You would certainly be on Cloud Nine, that’s for sure. And for a while, your confidence would be through the roof.
But would it stay that way for long? Wouldn’t you, at some point, start to wonder what was true, what was real and what wasn’t? We all know that no one is perfect. We all know that phrase, “We’re only human.” So how could it be that you, without fail, produce perfection every time?
Don’t you think that would eventually begin to wear on your mind? And if it didn’t, soon enough your confidence would become so great that you would probably decide to venture out of your little bubble and show your work off to the world. What would happen then? You would probably be crushed. Even if you did produce amazing work, when you bring it to the public, there are too many opinions and backgrounds for you to get 100% positive feedback; it’s just not possible.
Overly Positive Feedback vs. Constructive Criticism
So allowing ourselves to take both the positive feedback with the constructive criticism really gives us the opportunity to, not only develop in our field of expertise, but it also allows us to develop as individuals.
If you believe in your work and what you do, if you are passionate about it, then what constructive criticism does is open up your mind to the bigger picture.
There are billions of people in this world all with unique experiences and opinions that can add so much dimension to the work that you produce. But you have to be open to it. Step out of your bubble and open your mind to endless feedback. If you could hear the opinions of everyone in the world, just think how much content you’d have to feed off of for your work!
Have you ever considered how much you could learn from criticism? Really, think about it. If you can keep an open mind and not get defensive, then the more criticism you receive, the more you would learn about your field and your audience. And the more you learn, the more talented you would become. It’s a cycle. With knowledge comes confidence and through knowledge and confidence, incredible work develops.
You are Going to Get More Criticism
Of course, in this day-and-age, you are going to get more criticism from not only experts, but from people who don’t even have a clue. People love to give their opinions, even if they don’t know anything about what you do. But the beauty of criticism is, you can learn from both groups of people.
Most people can easily blow off negative comments from someone who has no experience in their field, although you really shouldn’t because you can still learn something from them. But it’s with experts and with colleagues that people tend to have a hard time accepting negative observations. For some reason, people have a very hard time seeing past it.
A Critic is an Expert in Your Field
But by definition, a critic is an expert in a particular field, who uses his or her vast knowledge to evaluate the authenticity of someone else’s work. Let’s take a food critic for example. The only way they get that job is by proving, through years of hard work, that they would be a superior judge of food quality and taste. So if you’re a chef in five-star restaurant and you receive a bad review from one of these critics, you have a choice to make. You can get angry and write them off as an idiot, or you can find something positive in that review. Now with the first option, you really don’t learn anything, and honestly, you just look like an arrogant snob.
Look for the Negative and the Positive in Criticism
But with the second option, by looking for the positive in a negative, you will be able to gain knowledge based on that critic’s experiences; experiences that are different from your own. You will also develop as a chef and as a person. Not to say that everything the critic writes is 100% truth. There could be several points that you do not agree with and rightly so, but if you can train yourself to take a deep breath and pull at least one or two positive aspects from their criticism, you will be amazed at how much you can learn. So bring on more criticism! And who knows, with enough criticism, maybe someday you will become the critic, and think about how much knowledge you would be able to share then.
The fact of the matter is, no matter what you do in life, you will be criticized on it. Whether you’re a writer, an artist, a designer, a chef, an executive, it doesn’t matter. No matter what career you choose, there will always be criticism. It’s how you respond, not react to criticism.
Now if you are not the best at receiving criticism or if you are the type of person who is easily offended by criticism, this could really hurt your career and ultimately your ability to develop as a person. Often times, when we are upset by something, we, as humans, have a tendency to react, sometimes overreact.
Respond! Don’t React to Criticism
Ultimately though, with criticism, it is much better if we can reach a point in our lives that we have the ability to breathe, think on it and then respond, not react to criticism. There are three very simple steps that you can practice in your life and then put into action when it comes to criticism.
Number one, love what you do.
Seems simple enough, right? The truth is, if you really love what you do, then your work will reflect that. And if you truly love what you do, then you will find yourself becoming more open to outside criticism. If your work is nothing more than a hobby or something you do just to make money, it will be much harder for you to receive criticism.
Number two, believe in what you do.
You should only do something that you truly believe in. If you have strong convictions about what you do, then someone’s criticism of your work will fuel those convictions, not dismantle them. Plus, you will be able to not only receive the criticism graciously, you will actually be able to have conversations about it!
Number three, find the positive in everything.
Unfortunately, criticism inherently carries a negative connotation. As a design teacher, I never heard my students say, “Oh how wonderful! I am being critiqued today.” So with any criticism, it is imperative to find the positive aspects of it and learn from it, no matter where or who it comes from.
There will be critics
Let’s face it, you are going to be criticized by people in all facets of your life. But if you can integrate these three very simple steps into your life, you will find that that terrible feeling will begin to go away, and you will be able to respond, not react to criticism and to the comments being made. Over time, you will actually welcome criticism. It may sound crazy now, but give it time. It really can happen for you!
Think about a time in your life when someone criticized something you did and it really affected you. Perhaps it came at a time when you were already feeling down, and it really hurt you. You probably said to yourself, “Why would someone say that? That’s just mean.” Perhaps you will even allow it to fester and make you angry.
But what you may not realize is that how you react to criticism can change your life, either for the better or for the worse, and it can even change the lives of those around you. If you allow criticism to upset you, then you will, eventually, become a very angry human being. This really doesn’t do any good for you and it doesn’t do any good for anyone around you either. If you allow it, negativity will do nothing but breed more negativity. And who wants to live like that?
Turn Negative Criticism into Eye Opening Criticism
Instead, try to take that very moment, when you receive the criticism, and tell yourself that from every negative critique comes positive change in your life. If you can keep an open mind, that negative critique has the power to have a positive impact on you in more ways than you could ever imagine. It can make you smarter, it can make you stronger, it can make you a more patient person, it can help you develop better personal skills, it can help you see your work from different angles, and really, in general, you will be a much happier person. If you can do nothing else, at least take that negative and turn it into what fuels you to do better.
Eye Opening Criticism can bring People Together
The most exciting part of eye opening criticism is that it can actually bring ideas and people together. It can even change the course of history. Think about people like Nelson Mandela. What if he decided to give up? What if he let all the negative criticism around him, from the citizens in his country, from the media and from politicians, pull him down and make him angry and violent? Do you think the same outcome would have occurred in South Africa? No way!
Sometimes criticism can be the key element that ends up opening people’s eyes to see an injustice. It can open people’s eyes to a different way of doing something, and not just in the political world.
Consider how eye opening criticism affected great artists.
How do you think art movements like Impressionism, Surrealism and Modernism came about? How were strides made in terms of new technology? Do you think those people were surrounded by only positive feedback? Of course not! But look what they were able to create and how many lives they impacted!
Criticism, for many people, carries the same meaning as judgment. In fact, one of the top synonyms of criticism is judgment. And one of the top synonyms of critic is judge. No wonder people have such a hard time with this term! Who wants to be judged? Obviously, people get defensive when it comes to being criticized. They can’t see the benefits, because the judgment side of it is so overpowering. And in today’s society, the word judgment doesn’t exactly carry a good connotation.
But if you go back in time, a clearer picture of why those two words are synonymous with words like judge and judgment begins to form. In the English language, we often forget that our words have a social and historical context to them. Language develops out of culture, and it affects how we perceive the words we use. There can be so many connotations to a word, and if we don’t look at the historical and social context, we can miss the whole point.
Let’s take just two words as an example. First, the word “awful” used to mean something that was inspiring. Today, awful means something bad or terrible. Quite a difference, right? Complete opposites really. For the second example, take the word “thongs.” Thongs used to refer to a pair of flip-flops, but we all know very well that that is not what people refer to now when they say, “I want to buy thongs.” In fact, I can just imagine the reaction of a teenager who overhears that sentence, especially if it’s their grandmother who says it.
Judgment and criticism have also suffered the same, although not as comical, misconceptions. A judgment was the opinion of a person of high regard. It used to carry the meaning of a belief or opinion based on study and higher education. Today, we often think of a judgment as an opinion based in ignorance, not education.
The word judge has gone through even more changes. In Jewish history, judges were leaders. The word had a positive connotation of strong, protective individuals. Then, judges became those who bore the responsibility of sentencing those who committed crimes. Again, not meant to have a negative connotation, but perhaps during the years of slavery, that all changed. Today, we tend to think of judges more so as those on American Idol or The Voice.
The point being, we need to take a deep breath and a step back when we think of the words criticism or critic. Although they have been distorted over the years, they truly do represent concepts that mirror our idea of positive feedback, which is only meant to help you develop in your area of expertise.