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Hello, my name is Gord, and I’m a perfectionist (in recovery).

Perfectionism seems to be a common human experience. Sometimes people who strive for perfection go on to accomplish great things, but I think chronic perfectionism is a problem and many pilots relate.

There’s a huge difference between a dedication to improvement and striving for perfection. Improvement brings a sense of empowerment, whereas perfectionist-type striving leads to more striving, stubbornness, and exhaustion.

I’ve been talking to a lot of pilots over the past two years who, like me, have loads of experience striving for perfection. And, like me, some of them have realized that their perfectionist lifestyle is unsustainable and breeds disempowering thoughts like, If I don’t get this perfect, I’m no good.

Thoughts like that become fuel for shame. I know that can be hard to hear, but I've been exploring and here's what I’ve found: thoughts such as, If I don’t get this perfect, I’m no good are shame-based and delusional. They will never lead to happiness or to any lasting sense of peace and I do not want to fuel those kinds of thoughts any longer!
 

Photo credit: Andrew Farr

The largest arena for my own perfectionism has been at work, which makes sense; there’s always good reason for improvement within an airline. However, in my pursuit for improvement I got tangled up in expecting perfection and had no clue what a delusion it is. This has proven to be a source of unfulfillment for me. In the years I spent striving I neglected my relationship with my daughter, my now ex-wife, my family, even myself. In a sense I was completely mindless.


Noticing and stopping, sharing strategies

Since I’ve been discussing these insights with others and seeing how many people relate, I thought to share a few of my strategies for shifting out of my stubborn thinking.

For starters, noticing my patterns toward perfectionism is a hugely valuable step in itself. Noticing when I start getting caught up in thoughts like:

“I will feel good about myself when I master …”

“When I achieve …, then I will be happy.”

"When I accomplish …, then I'll be more worthy."

As soon as I notice these types of thoughts, I remind myself of what perfectionism is not; it is not healthy or realistic. The idea of perfection is a trap and will never lead to happiness or fulfillment.

Then I stop. I stop myself from going down that rabbit-hole of mindless thinking and take a few slow mindful breaths. Most of my blogs and posts include something about mindfulness because it has been my way of shedding light on a moment so I can see my path ahead. For me it’s often just a moment of stillness. If you’re curious about mindfulness, I recorded a 4-minute “Pause and Breathe” guided practice, click here to try it out.
 

Sometimes I need support in redirecting myself and I get a lot of inspiration from others. An artist, Andrea Scher, wrote some enlightening words about her experience, “To manage my perfectionism, I give myself tons of permission to do things that are good enough.” and “Perfection is the enemy of Done.”

I remember giving myself similar permission when I was new to the 705 world and learning to pre-flight passenger jets. My performance sucked, especially when the process got interrupted as it so often does. I felt foolish and became miserable because I concluded that I suck. I saw how that thought was negatively affecting my performance, so one day - I think it was at KDCA - I said to myself Ok, it’s done. It wasn’t pretty but it's done! It doesn't need to be pretty. And I moved on. Bam! That day was a turning point.

I like how Nicholas Wilton talked about a 'perfectible' box and an 'art' box. He says the majority of things in life go into the ‘art’ box, including the human experience, and suggests that if we can use the word ‘art’ to describe something we do, then it doesn’t need to be perfect.

I see how a lot of my behaviour at work can have the word ‘art' attached to it. There is certainly an art to handling airplanes; take landing as an easy example. Be it a DHC6 in a confined area or an Airbus on bare and dry pavement, putting the machine down where it needs to be down is more art than science.
 

Photo credit: David Brook

Even within strict SOPs there is room for flexibility and creative thinking, and that is by design. That space is where human creativity shines. It’s where our best work occurs, and it also happens to be where machines can’t keep up with us.


Resilience: a gift of imperfection

So here we are, 10 years after my turning-point at KDCA. Pre-flight is still interrupted constantly by loading issues, managing ground delays, maintenance people doing their thing, etc. As you pilots know, interruptions during pre-flight can have far-reaching consequences. The difference between then and now is I know that the ‘perfect’ version of how pre-flight looks on paper rarely occurs. Instead of getting entangled in thoughts like I suck I remind myself that it doesn’t have to be pretty. The ways in which I string things together after being disrupted is an art. I get it done as best I can and move on.

I celebrate my accomplishments and how I contribute to a team and a system. Most importantly, my sense of fulfillment doesn’t depend on any outcomes; with this I feel more at peace and resilient.

There’s so much I’m learning about perfectionism... but I’ll leave it here with one final thought: consider that even when your outcomes are not perfect, you are perfectly good enough as the perfectly imperfect Being that you are.

Until next time,

Gord

JUST FOR LAUGHS
Amber found this 1-minute blooper from a while back when we were recording our debates about the terms 'autopilot' and 'mindlessness'. In the spirit of imperfection, and just having fun, I thought to include it for your viewing pleasure, enjoy!
UPCOMING COURSE SCHEDULE
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*** STARTING THIS SUNDAY! January 10th 6-week series Awakening Together is a series open to people of all walks of life who are interested in examining the nature of their true self and ready to dive deep into embodied awareness. 
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