Perfectionism: the Painful Destructive Journey to Success and Clarity

I realised as I planned this article the significance of perfectionism in my life. Perfectionism is an illness; an extremely painful emotional condition. There are those who claim to be, “a bit of a perfectionist” just as some claim to be “a bit OCD” without any understanding of the real conditions.

Perfectionists will rarely claim, or admit they have a problem however. They are commonly disappointed with the outcome of their endeavours. While others may judge their work to be amazing, the perfectionist knows what is wrong with their work or why it is not good enough.

We all have idiosyncrasies. Many have acceptable phobias: spiders, flying birds, crowds, open spaces, clowns. These very real fears seem strange to most of us but they cause panic for others. We accept these problems as part of normal life. But, when a decorator fears a crack in a wall or a modern young person has fear of not having mobile phone connection, we are inclined to regard this as mental illness.

The difference is that we can manage our lives around many fears but there may come a time when they interfere with day to day living. My sudden realisation as I write this article is that it is an issue which is reflected in many of the articles here on this site. OCD, Imposter Syndrome, Meditation and Goal Setting are examples. The pursuit of perfection has been the driving force behind my study of self-improvement over many years.

The pursuit of perfection is what drives civilisation. It is the route to creativity and invention. What would life be if we don’t have dreams and goals to pursue? Composers would be redundant. Athletes would have no records to aim for.

My mission statement as a dental surgeon: “The Constant Pursuit of Excellence” is explained in this also.

As a dental student I was highly regarded by my peers and teachers. Although I achieved 100% in clinical work over a year – which had never been achieved before – I felt that I had fooled everyone because they had not seen through me; that my work was not that good.

Although my patients were invariable delighted with the outcomes of my care I became increasingly depressed because I knew how I could do better. What became perfectionism was enforced by OCD.
Producing what was regarded as highly skilled work felt very easy to me. I knew that it could be done better. This motivated me to write this article on Imposter Syndrome.

My student days were fun and relatively stress free. However, transitioning into a busy professional life slowly grew into a stressful challenge which I discussed in this post on OCD.

There might be a period in life when different trials happen all at once. This could lead to an emotional crisis. Challenges such as setting up a business, purchasing a house, getting married, starting a family, death of parents and emigrating, are regarded as the major stressors in life. Stress not recognised can creep slowly and build to levels which are difficult to manage on ones own.

I describe in this article how perfectionists tendencies can be triggered by OCD. These manifests as not being able to rely on learnt and practiced methods we have developed over the years. The programmes of actions which we repeat subconsciously every day can no longer be trusted. Everything had to be done by conscious self-scrutiny. This never stopped me from working but the condition is exhausting.

We all experience examples of the condition. Did I turn off the oven? Did I lock the front door? Did the traffic lights go green before I drove away? Imagine questioning every action that takes place during the day and the resultant fears that someone could be harmed by an omission.

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There is a condition called a creative illness. Many extremely creative people in all areas of life from the time of the shaman till today, suffered emotional conditions. Many scientists, artists and inventors have suffered the depths of despair before emerging with greater depths of creativity.

The recovery from this dreadful affliction requires deconstructing subconscious actions and retraining everything so that all routine procedures could be carried out sub-consciously again.
This required tremendous understanding from all those on whom we depend at home and at work.

Perfectionism in this way requires high standards from everyone in the supply chain.

Recovery does not change a person. Being obsessive about standards and personal goals is one’s personality; not a problem, as long as it is understood and managed. Great outcomes follow when the process; the subconscious programmes and intention are properly trained.

Having recovered from this painful condition, I have turned my perfectionism into an asset. I have studied the psychology and physiology of motivation and have written and lectured about it for many years. Until now I have not openly attributed it to my personal experience fearing the stigma.

Having retired I feel that my experience can benefit others. Conditions like OCD and perfectionism are emotional rather than psychological. I heard someone say the other day that the use of the word mental to describe a condition causes a stigma. Mental simply means of the mind.

There are some conditions where there are chemical deficiencies or ‘wiring’ problems in the brain. Diabetes is a chemical deficiency. Depression can be too. Epilepsy is a ‘wiring’ condition where a small area of nerves does not behave properly at times. Some heart conditions and pain conditions have similar causes.

Chemical deficiencies require medication as do some of these other conditions. Emotional conditions may benefit from medication in the early stages but ultimately will get resolved. In my judgement, searching for a cause in one’s past is not necessary. I did seek help. Ultimately the solution comes from within.

The clarity, comfort and confidence which one gains from this process is great. Great athletes, artists and musicians perform best to the extent that they can allow a flow from the subconscious to the task in hand without conscious interference. Having gone through the process of recovery brought a lot of positive changes.

Work became a pleasure and fun, again. Business opportunities in Care and construction appeared and I was able to take full advantage of them. Various leadership posts were offered to me. I also published my first book shortly afterwards. This brought about many creative opportunities in writing, TV and lecturing. I ran a marathon and participated in other similar sporting challenges. A world full of opportunities opened up.

The pursuit of perfection is the joy of living. Constantly seeking to improve is the source of creativity and invention.  Perfectionism can be a route to discovering and unleashing suppressed ability. Thorough process leads to great outcomes.

The process is to accommodate not eradicate one’s personality. This is why we have mentors, coaches and gurus.

Many of the other articles on this site are inspired by the solution to perfectionism. Meditation, managing goals and the pursuit of success.

The beginning of the route to success is in the free gift which you can read here: Discover your Route to Success.