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3 Ways to Balance Ambition and Perfectionism

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I’ve had a difficult time in my life balancing perfectionism and ambition. Why is it that the two seem to be almost inseparable? Can we actually have a high drive to succeed without the ever present need to simultaneously be perfect?

For me, I began to notice the link between perfectionism and ambition early on. In high school, my main focus was landing a spot on a college team for baseball. This meant putting in countless hours in hopes of attaining that goal. 

While I am proud of the consistent effort I put forth, another more crippling trait began to develop. After every training session or game, I would feel as though I didn’t do enough. 

Do you know that feeling?

The sense that there is more to give. Only, when is enough enough? When have you put in enough work that day and have earned the right to rest until your next training session or work day?

That is something I had a difficult time answering. Fast forward to college and my perfectionism grew worse. Even though I had reached a target, landing a starting role on my college baseball team, my ambition only created another goal to strive for. 

Instead of taking the time to enjoy and relish in the fact I had achieved a childhood dream, I quickly re-centered my focus onto a future ideal. I once again did not feel perfect. 

When I moved up another level and started playing professional baseball, I still had this feeling that I wasn’t enough. No matter how hard I trained or what I did in a game, there was always more to be achieved. 

That is the sad truth for perfectionists. No matter how hard you work or how much you achieve, you will never feel perfect.

Balancing Perfectionism & Ambition

My level of ambition was great, as it kept propelling me to new heights. Yet the accompanying perfectionism slowly ate away at my self-confidence and the joy I had in the sport. 

Now that I am finished playing baseball and my attention has turned to mental performance coaching, I routinely deal with similar feelings while running my business. The only difference is, I now have tools in place to counteract perfectionism. 

I never want to reduce the ambition I have, as I would never encourage you to do so either. But we all must recognize the direct relationship between perfectionism and ambition. 

Once this is accepted, we can then put tools into place to reduce perfectionism and hold on tightly to our ambition. 

Tool #1: Trust Your Planning

In my experience, one of the major ways perfectionism attacks the mind is second guessing. 

If you have ever dealt with perfectionism, you know exactly what I’m talking about. As a perfectionist, there is a desperate need to be perfect. Not just a desire, not just a want, but a need.

The negative effects of not being perfect hurt so much, our only remedy is to seek perfection. Now, when you have ambition, your mind sees that ultimate target as a symbol or perfection. 

So, in order to reach that goal, you need to have a perfect plan in place. Only, there is no such thing as a perfect plan. What results is constant second guessing. For me, almost every week I would question my training plan.

With work, I now find myself second guessing the steps I’m taking to build my business. 

To counteract this, we must work hard to trust in our planning. I’m sure if you’re like me and you have high ambition, you have put in a lot of effort to plan and ensure you know how to reach your target. 

Now you have to trust yourself!

Trust in your plan, and now focus solely on the process you’ve put in place to get yourself to where you wish to go.

“Ambition is enthusiasm with a purpose.” – Frank Tyger

Tool #2: Celebrate Your Small Successes

One of the major mistakes I made throughout my playing career was not relishing in the small successes I experienced. 

In baseball, it’s not so often you get a hit. In fact, three times out of ten signifies you’re a fantastic batter. So, if greatness is still measured by failing seventy percent of the time, you better cherish those successes or you’ll feel lousy most of the time. 

That’s the state I found myself in. I gave tons of attention to my failures, yet did little to celebrate my small wins. 

For yourself, if you are struggling with perfectionism, you need to begin taking time to celebrate your successes along the way. No, this doesn’t mean you need to pop champagne for every little target you hit.

What it does mean is recognizing when you succeed no matter how big or small. Let’s say you knocked out all your goals for the day, take some time and relish in the pride you feel for your accomplishment. 

Begin taking time to celebrate your small successes and perfectionism will slowly have less of a hold on you.

Tool #3: Fall In love With The Journey

Have you ever attained a large goal? 

How long did the feelings of joy last? 

One of the scariest things I’ve noticed in life is how quickly a moment comes and goes. That feeling of winning a championship, landing a new job, getting a promotion, it’s gone in the blink of an eye. 

If that moment is all you are working towards, I hate to say it but you’re striving for a moment that will be gone before you know it. What then? Will you go back to feeling down on yourself and imperfect until you reach yet another quickly fading moment of success?

As people with ambition, it’s so easy to become fixated on that end result. But when that end result happens, you’re left with a daunting question, what’s next?

That’s why, if you truly want to manage perfectionism, you need to eliminate your focus from being completely centered on that end result. 

A great way to do this is by falling in love with the journey. If all you find happiness and fulfillment in is the outcome, you are only going to be disappointed. 

Learn to love the process. Fall in love with waking up each day and working, challenging yourself, solving problems, and watching yourself grow along the way. 

If you truly learn to love the journey, the outcome will matter very little. And if the end result is of less importance, you can have all the ambition in the world, and perfectionism will no longer suffocate you. 

Eli Straw is the founder of Success Starts Within and has an M.S. in psychology. Eli's goal is to provide valuable performance psychology information to the public, and help individuals optimize their lives. If you would like to read more articles written by Eli, you can view them here. You can follow Eli on Twitter at @straw_eli. If you would like to learn more about how you can benefit from mental performance coaching, feel free to email Eli at elistraw@successstartswithin.com.

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