One of my favourite clips from the TV Show “I love Lucy” is the scene where she and her friend Ethel have started work in a chocolate factory wrapping chocolates.
The supervisor, a terrifying woman bristling with anger and superiority, warns them of the consequences if they fail at their task.
As the conveyor belt of chocolates passes by, at first everything is seemingly under control and the two women are confident they’ve got this job nailed.
Until the belt speeds up.
Now the chocolates are hurtling past and there is no way they can all be wrapped. Hearing the return of the supervisor they adopt desperate measures, stuffing chocolate into their mouths, under their hats, down the front of their uniforms.
“Splendid!” roars the supervisor, calling out to the person in charge of the conveyor belt, “Speed it up!”
Have you ever felt like Lucy, overwhelmed, exhausted by the seemingly impossible and growing tasks, but still trying your hardest to meet expectations?
If you are diligent, hard-working, and determined always to give your best, when does that morph into perfectionism or workaholism and what impact does that then have on your ability to work well or feel well?
Perfectionism is a well-worn personality trait that can put you at greater risk of burning out.
Your diligence keeps you alert, attentive to what’s needed, and you respond appropriately. Ramp that up a notch or three and now you’re hyper alert, ever conscious of potential threat, but less able to focus, to think clearly, or switch off.
Burnout, just like the conveyor belt of chocolates creeps up, gathering speed until you suddenly find yourself at risk of falling off and injuring yourself. Which in burnout is when you reach the tipping point of no longer being able to function in your usual tasks, exhausted, cynical, and emotionally numb.
Where perfectionism can show up
Perfectionism can be in the entrepreneur who wants everything in their new start-up to be “perfect”.
It can be supported by a fear of failure or judgement by others. Unless you try harder than everyone else, how can you show you’re worthy of the role or be seen as the imposter you are?
Perfectionism can lead to intense frustration on your part. Your desire to make everything you do perfect means your tasks take far longer than needed, leading to a pile-up of other equally deserving tasks waiting in the wings.
It can also manifest as procrastination. Have you ever caught yourself saying “this isn’t quite the right moment to make that phone call, have that conversation or start that new project”? However you rationalise this, it’s often perfectionism (I want to do this right) shrouded in an invisibility cloak.
Recovery from perfectionism can feel as if you’re giving away a kidney. But it’s not true.
Perfectionism is a shackle that keeps you from delivering more of your greatness.
Perfectionism is all-or-nothing thinking and life’s not like that.
What if you were to choose completion over perfection?
Enough over nothing?
Flexibility over rigidity?
Freeing yourself from the tight grip of perfectionism can take time and practice, (keep a good watch on your boundaries and mind your thinking habits) but how wonderful to return to sweet diligence and striving towards excellence without the risk of burning out.
Remember, as Wolfgang Riebe said, “no one is perfect, that’s why pencils have erasers.”
If you have perfectionist tendencies, what have you found helpful to prevent yourself from burning out.
Dr Jenny Brockis is a board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life (Wiley) is now available for purchase
If psychological safety, burnout prevention and mental wellbeing is something you’d like to find out more about, please contact me to set up a time for a chat.