People often talk about perfectionism like it’s a bad thing, using terms like “recovering perfectionist”, but I don’t agree with those people. Just like I don’t think that being an introvert is something I should have to “recover” from, or that preferring Pepsi over Coke is something I need to be ashamed of. (Though I’m sure my father would disagree on that last one lol…)
I truly believe that my perfectionism is a gift that has served me well during my life and has helped form who I am and get me a lot of the things I wanted out of life. I’m proud of the fact that I put a lot of care and thought into everything I do and I wouldn’t want to change that about myself.
However, I will freely admit that end-of-year reviews and goal setting for the next, can be a rough moment in the life of every perfectionist and performance-minded individual.
I personally tend to spend the week between Christmas and New Years panicking that I will come up short and then trying to cram in as much productive activity as possible during that time in a last-minute hail mary attempt to rack up as many imaginary productivity points as I can before the big end of year “grade” I mentally give myself is set in stone. (I realize how unhealthy that sounds… hence this blog post with my new and improved plan).
“…traditional end-of-year reviews usually just don’t work for me (as I imagine they most likely don’t work for a lot of perfectionists)”
But that’s because traditional end-of-year reviews usually just don’t work for me (as I imagine they most likely don’t work for a lot of perfectionists). Either they are overly critical and can cause me to shut down and feel like a failure, OR when told to “just focus on all the good things that happened” can then feel like a trivial, meaningless mental exercise, antithetical to who I am as an individual and the things I value at my core.
Of course the comedy of it all is that, NOT reviewing my year and setting goals for the next would also feel antithetical to who I am at my core as well.
That leaves one with the million-dollar question then of how does a perfectionist/performance minded individual go about reviewing their year and setting goals in a way that is healthy and productive but also still let’s them be true to themselves and the things that they value?
After a lot of thought and research here’s the plan I’ve come up with:
Movement Is Better Than Stagnation
In a commencement speech Neil Gaiman once gave to The University Of The Arts (which is worth the 20mins of your life to listen to in its entirety) he talked about visualizing his goals in life as a distant mountain, and then weighing every opportunity he was offered as to whether it would move him closer to or further away from his mountain. And that’s a mental picture that has always stuck with me over the years.
So often as a perfectionist I have the phrase “done is better than perfect” thrown at me. And while well-meaning as it may be, this phrase in and of itself can be irksome because on some level it feels like it devalues something that matters to me and is part of who I am.
But what if we were to flip that phrase and combine it with Neil Gaiman’s metaphor in order to create the mantra of “movement is better than stagnation” as our end of year metric for review?
This is powerful as a review tactic since you are no longer only taking into consideration how well you may have performed, but rather whether that performance (good or bad), moved you closer to your goal.
You could have fallen on your face and failed entirely, but as long as you’re failing forward toward your goal, you’re still getting closer than you would have if you’d never moved at all.
Thomas Edison (whom I don’t really like as a person the more I learn about him) famously said “I have not failed 10,000 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.” and that’s the kind of energy I want to bring into 2022 with me.
Identify What Brings You Joy And What You Are Doing Because You’re “Supposed To”
I know I said that the route of “just focusing on all the good things that happened” isn’t usually a review method that works for me. However, I find that focusing on “what things brought you the most joy this year” can be a very powerful metric.
That’s because joy doesn’t always come from where you expect it to, and it’s easy to fall into the trap of just doing what you think you are “supposed” to do, what you are “expected” to do.
By stopping to truly ask yourself “what brought me the most joy this year” you are asking yourself to honestly examine the choices you’ve made and which ones you are doing because you think you’re “supposed” to do them, and which ones you are doing because they truly bring you happiness.
Identify What Is Bringing You Pain/Anxiety & How You Can Minimize Those Things In The Coming Year
Why do we skip over this one so often? Yes, it’s always a good idea to reflect on the things that brought us the most joy each year, but it would be a disservice to ourselves to not also examine what things brought us the most pain.
For some people this could be as simple as constantly feeling overwhelmed by the task of keeping the house clean. For others this may be as big as a job or relationship that is no longer a healthy situation for you to be a part of. Or perhaps it’s as basic as sheer loneliness.
Whatever it is, it’s important to recognize it. Name it. And then decide how to tackle it head on. Because no amount of joy seeking in the coming year will erase the pain if you don’t start to heal the wound first.
Look For Growth & Opportunities To Grow
Another review metric that really resonated with me was to examine my own personal growth as an individual by examining difficult situations I’ve been faced with over the past year and analyzing how I’ve dealt with them.
This requires you to both recognize the moments in which you’ve grown as a human being and handled them better than you may have done in the past, as well as the moments where you’ve come up not liking how you reacted to a challenging scenario.
This then gives one a tangible list of actions they can take for the coming year as you set your intentions for who you want to be and the you that you want to move toward becoming.
Above All Take A Moment To Push The Pause Button
If nothing else, I think all of these thoughts and ideas can be summed up in the act of simply taking a moment to pause, think about where you are at, where you are going and giving yourself that moment to decide if that’s where you WANT to go and what you WANT to be doing.
As a perfectionist I find it INCREDIBLY EASY to just keep plugging away at a goal or task I’ve previously committed to in an attempt to obtain perfection with it. However, that desire often ends up giving me tunnel vision as to if I even still want to be going down that path and working on that project in the first place.
Taking a moment to pause and look around your life can help break that cycle of tunnel vision and let you examine if you want to keep pouring your time, effort and energy into a project in the coming year.
What metrics do you use to review the past and set your intentions for the future each year? Let me know in the comments below!