Obsession with perfection won't help career

Q. When I make mistakes at my office, I'm my own worst enemy. I replay my errors, talk about them when I get home, and some nights even dream about what I did wrong. My boss is perfectly happy with my performance, but I see how I can do a better job. I'm driving myself up a wall with perfectionism and am afraid it will start to affect what I do. How can I snap out of picking myself apart?

A. You can snap out of picking yourself apart by seeing that you have a sort of emotional anorexia. Instead of thinking you are fat, you believe you are completely incompetent, despite plenty of evidence that you do an excellent job.

Part of this type of perfectionism is fueled by a brain this is overly anxious. When the brain is flooded with fear, people seek control and believe that only being perfect will keep them safe.

The truth is you are never safe from problems. No matter how competent or lucky or careful you are, the world is full of unexpected adversities. The only safety is learning to trust that you can cope with what is thrown your way -- not to believe you can avoid all problems.

If, in addition to your perfectionism, you notice you have trouble sleeping and are often irritable and high strung, consider whether seeing a psychiatrist to consider an anxiety medication might be helpful. Psychiatry is truly just not for people who are "crazy." Psychiatrists understand the ins and outs of the human brain and how to optimize our unique wiring.

There is no reason to suffer with your compulsion of perfection if it turns out that part of the reason for it is brain chemistry.

Obviously, the other part of your challenge is to figure out how to stop hammering yourself intellectually and emotionally about every misstep you believe you made. The answer here is to shift your focus away from beating yourself up.

Make a habit when you get home to start your evening by reviewing every right thing you did during the day. You can write things down or tell your family about what you did well.

Make a bargain with yourself that you will limit your self-criticisms to five minutes after work. Make your usual list mentally or in writing and shift your intellectual focus.

In tandem with changing what you focus on, consider your deepest fear that you are inadequate. Let's say you are inadequate. Is your imperfection really the end of the world? If you look around, you'll see lots of imperfect people having fairly enjoyable lives despite their flaws.

Sometimes we live our lives in the shadow of a fear we refuse to name and face. We think we wouldn't survive an encounter with our deepest fears. The truth is that by facing our nightmares we have much better odds of not dreaming about them at night and not living them during our workday.

The last word(s)

Q. I work with a person who seems to be a professional at fomenting power struggles. I'm exhausting with fighting with him. Is there anything I can do to escape his next battle with me?

A. Yes, the next time he starts a power struggle, make sure he's is the only one who needs to be right. He'll find it impossible to fight with someone who isn't interested in being right.

(Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker, also appears as the FOX Channel's "Workplace Guru" each Monday morning. She's the author of "Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything" (Hay House, 2006). You can contact Dr. Skube at http://www.interpersonaledge.com or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027. Sorry, no personal replies.)


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