A Coaching Power Tool By Uljana Kalinova, Life Coach, Career Coach, LATVIA
Wholeness vs. Perfection Meaning
Seek to be whole, not perfect. Oprah Winfrey
The word “perfection” is defined as the “state of being perfect” or the “act of making something perfect by doing the final improvements”. And the word “perfect” is defined as “having everything that is necessary; complete and without faults or weaknesses”. Although at a smaller scale perfection might stimulate motivation and action when becoming the main idea, the concept of perfection puts a lot of pressure as it directs to go for the perfect result through improvements until there are no faults or weaknesses. It assumes that something is not complete unless it is perfect. Accordingly, we use the word perfection to describe a concept of perfectionism when fear of failure, fear of judgment or rejection, or fear of not being good enough makes some of us get attached to the high expectations for ourselves and/or others around us. Extreme exposure to polished social media and competition culture at workplaces nowadays make it easy to get into the perfectionism trap as we tend to compare ourselves to others’ success, happiness, lifestyle, or appearance. It might make us believe that if we fail or do not match external standards, it would be equal to not being complete. During my coaching practice and based on my own experience with detaching from perfectionism (that I am vulnerable to), I have observed that perfectionism has a tendency to show up through attachment to the control over how we or others should be. I also observe that there is a tendency to hide it behind concepts that we link with positive perspectives or even our strong values. Here are some examples of how I was trying to hide perfectionism and control behind my values:
- I am taking full control over this because to me it is important that the result is of high quality– here control was disguising behind the value of quality, while in fact, the main driver of behavior was fear of judgment
- I am taking full control over this because I am truly caring – here control was disguising behind the value of caring, while in fact, the main driver was fear of rejection and not meeting external expectations
When we get stuck with ideas to make something perfect it might come with many blockages on our way. The control that we are holding on to takes extra energy from us. This often gets us stuck in procrastination when we cannot get to the desired outcome as we get under pressure of eliminating all possible weaknesses, even those that might appear, but haven’t yet materialized (i.e. we are trying to control something we cannot predict or something that is actually out of our control and it makes progress too slow or not happening). Perfectionism increases the tendency for untrust. We consider that trust equals the risk of releasing control and becoming vulnerable in front of our fears. Perfectionism increases the tendency to dismiss our achievements and progress toward our goals. We consider nothing deserving acknowledgment unless it has no weaknesses. And although we might think that we grow by becoming more perfect, in fact, attachment to control leaves no room for learning from exploration and for other ways to become possible. As result, we are feeling anxiety, stress, low self-confidence, and loneliness. But probably the most toxic and dangerous consequence of perfectionism is that in practice it makes us forget about the actual purpose of what we are doing substituting it with the only purpose to act in a way that we can avoid failure, judgment, rejection, and meet external expectations. We are driven by negative perspectives and don’t live our authentic lives.
The word “wholeness” is defined as “the quality of being whole or complete”. Opposite to the definition of perfection that sets a strict borderline where “complete” equals “not having weaknesses”, the definition of wholeness assumes that something is complete by default and does not necessarily direct to eliminate flaws and weaknesses; while perfection is excluding the weaknesses, wholeness is inclusive for all what it consists of. In analogy, each human being has an individual set of qualities, skills, talents, strengths, challenges, vulnerabilities, beliefs, and values, which all together make each us unique authentic whole personality. The concept of wholeness invites us to act inclusively toward ourselves and accept our personalities and relationship as a whole. It opens the possibility for finding and acknowledging our own strengths and uniqueness and then building on that, rather than spending energy on eliminating our flaws. Wholeness shifts focus from weaknesses and what we are not to our strengths and what we are. We accept ourselves fully and this makes our inner core strength. In the concept of wholeness failures, judgment, rejection, and external expectations don’t define us and don’t affect our feeling of being complete, fulfilled, and valued. We are whole during all our journeys and in any moment of it, not only when we achieve flawless results or when we are approved by others. Our understanding of who we are and our value comes from the inside out, it is not dictated from the outside in. Wholeness is a support mechanism to first discover and then live to our fullest potential; we are not reflections of our fears or external expectations, we are true and authentic to ourselves. Wholeness allows us to let go of excessive control and creates opportunities for continuous self-discovery, exploration, experimenting, and learning. It opens the possibility to act from curiosity, courage, and imagination driven by the intention to explore, grow or create (in other words driven by the true purpose of what matters to us the most and what we truly desire), not because of fears. We trust ourselves; we know that we are capable of actions and achievements, and we recognize ourselves for our achievements. When we accept our own wholeness, we are open to accepting the wholeness of others too. We are more open-minded to differences in us and to the idea of several ways of being or doing something. We contribute to creating a supportive environment where we build mutual trust by acknowledging and learning from each other. As result we feel safe, confident, supported, and energized. Here are some examples of how wholeness can show up:
- I accept myself and others as a whole
- I know my value
- I know I am worthy
- I trust myself, my choices, and my decisions
- I acknowledge myself for my strengths and effort, even if there are flaws
- I trust others in their way of being or doing
- I acknowledge others for their strengths and effort, even when there are flaws
- I learn from my experiences and mistakes
- I support others to learn from their experiences too
- I am setting my own standards
- I live my true purpose even when there are imperfections
- I am complete even if something goes wrong
Supporting Clients in Shifting Perspective
The shift of perspective from perfection to wholeness starts with getting awareness when the idea of perfection is becoming the main driver of our behavior or attitude. To find that clarity we can start by answering: What makes you act in a specific way? Where this behavior comes from? What do you feel or think in a moment of this behavior?
When we have awareness of being attached to the idea of perfection, it is valuable to understand more about the meaning of perfection in a specific situation for us. There is something behind the idea of perfection that makes us choose it over wholeness. This understanding further will support us in both: shifting our perspective and re-connecting with what it is that matters to us the most. What is important for you about making it perfect? What is it that you truly want to get as result? What meaning it has for your right now?
Each of us is moving forward at our own speed and path, so before jumping to further exploration or action plan it is important to re-check what we are feeling ready of doing with new awareness right now: What is coming up for you right now? What do you want to do with new awareness? What would you like to address next?
When we are ready to commit to shifting perspectives, it is time to challenge our current way of thinking and explore what else is possible. Here we also reflect on what it is that we truly want and reconnect with it.
- How does the idea of perfection serve you on the way to your goal?
- What possibilities letting go of perfection would open for you?
- What possibilities accepting your wholeness and/or the wholeness of those around you would open for you?
- How do you want to experience achieving your desired outcome?
- How do you want to experience yourself?
- How can your strengths support you in achieving your goal?
- How would you like to acknowledge yourself for your strengths and progress?
To make sure that we put our new perspective and concept of wholeness into practice, we can reflect on our learning and how these can support us going forward:
- What are you learning about yourself right now?
- How can this learning support you in staying connected with that what you truly want?
- How can this learning support you in achieving your desired outcome?
Supporting Coaches in Coaching Practice
Being in a community of young coaches I observe that many of us also tend to seek perfection driven by fear of not being good enough. Here are two main concepts that I used to release the idea of perfection in my coaching practice:
- Accepting the fact (and fear) of now knowing and acting from presence and curiosity. Coaches and clients show up to the session as whole personalities. The uniqueness of both parties creates the uniqueness of each coaching session. We cannot predict what we will discover in the process. Although we can ensure that we show up present, being curious and open-minded to what this session might bring. We don’t need to know all the answers, we just need to be open to exploration of answers.
- Reflecting on our coaching practice and finding opportunities in flaws and imperfections. Rather than treat what didn’t work well as a limitation and self-criticize, we can treat it as an opportunity for continuous growth and support this growth by reflective practices and focusing on both: what I would like to acknowledge myself for and what I would like to work on more. By sharing our reflections and experiences we also build a trustworthy and supportive community where we can learn from each other.