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Perfectionism in Practice

“Perfectionism is self abuse of the highest order.” Anne Wilson Schaef

“You’re such a perfectionist!” How often do you get that? I used to get it all the time at work.

As more people called me a perfectionist, that negative voice in my head fed off it. “Yes, you’re a perfectionist, don’t go letting anyone down,” – “quick, find something to improve on it”. I owned that identity. I AM a perfectionist. Worse still, one of the therapists that I saw, labelled me as a perfectionist, which fed even more so into the identity. I quickly avoided doing tasks where possible, for fear of them being less than perfect. Nothing was ever good enough. I viewed the world through perfectionist eyes.

I used to look up perfectionist traits. I used to see and share quotes about being a perfectionist. I used it as a badge of honour, until it nearly destroyed me. That negative voice in my head became an expert on perfectionism, my vision was so skewed that I saw myself as nothing but that. That voice had me believe that was my identity, and that was how my life was set to pan out – frustrating and never good enough.

But, guess what? On being able to separate myself from that negative voice – I realised that there was lots of evidence that I was NOT indeed a perfectionist. Maybe at work I had traits, but my house was not PERFECTLY tidy, I was not PERFECTLY dressed, my car was not PERFECTLY pristine, my paperwork was not PERFECTLY filed. In fact, I was showing perfectionist tendencies in only about 30% of my life. Remember, that negative voice is NOT you.

In the veterinary profession, I see this trait attached to many clinicians. The truth is that there is no ability to be perfect in practice. There are too many variables; pets do not always read the text books. You can only control your attitude and how you respond; when that’s the case, it’s well worth choosing a method that benefits you positively.

Winston Churchill said “give someone a character and they either live up or live down to it”. I lived perfectionism, I thought and I didn’t choose it. This quote is right, it is abuse – but not by our true selves (nobody would choose that), but by that negative voice, that pre-programmer subconscious muttering that we all tune into every day and sadly believe is us.



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