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A weekend workshop at Royal Roads helps over-achievers set the bar lower
The ever-striving perfectionists among us demonstrate energy far greater than our own. They don't stop at "well done" work when Himalayan heights can be scaled by midnight. They challenge the aging process with rigorous diet, exercise and even injections, whisk the kids to swim meets at dawn, speed-read tomorrow's book-club selection into the wee hours despite a bad cold, and would never cave on hosting that night's meeting.
After all, the 12-layer torte is ready to be served with a smile.
Their smile doesn't mean they're happy, say the organizers of a weekend intervention workshop for perfectionists at Royal Roads University, called Embracing Imperfection.
"There are no happy perfectionists - it's a self-attack with high standards - it's fear and unworthiness fronting as something heroic," says facilitator Shannon Beauchamp, a "recovering perfectionist" and former federal government manager turned consultant.
The workshop offered Saturday and Sunday for $195 is aimed at guiding perfectionists toward acceptance of the "good enough" approach to their lives, rather than the endless quest for the pinnacles, with diminishing returns.
Perfectionists tend to be over-achievers, people-pleasers who try to fix - or at least control - everything, Beauchamp says. And there are lots of them out there.
"In today's society, we have a lot of high standards," she says. "We fear judgment, and that's where we get stuck."
Perfectionist behaviour is a great coping mechanism for self-doubt, but eventually, the disconnect with personal authenticity threatens the validation perfectionists are seeking.
"You don't let help in, you don't let vulnerability in. You don't let truth in and you don't receive the love, you don't receive the compliments," Beauchamp says.
"If you were to compliment me a couple of years ago, I would have just shut you down." Now, she says, bring it on.
Children are intuitively their authentic selves, says Beauchamp, who now consults on leadership development. But as we age, we often change our values in the quest for acceptance by others. By their 40s, perfectionists may want to explore how feelings rooted in childhood created habitual but harmful adult responses: saying yes when they mean no, or calming fear of failure by doing more, all the while feeling less satisfaction.
Perfectionism is a growing concern in medical literature. In 2012 alone, more than 80 articles have been archived with the U.S. National Library of Medicine that deal with perfectionism in connection with eating and anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive behaviour, depressive moods and more.
One study from the University of Perth, published in October, found the group of perfectionists studied perceived the "many negative consequences of their perfectionism ... [but] reported numerous benefits and the majority stated that they would prefer not to change their perfectionism."
Co-facilitator Valerie Watt, a former critical-care nurse now certified as a cognitive behavioural therapist with a private counselling practice in Victoria, says the Royal Road course looks at the roots of where perfectionists get stuck.
"The ultimate goal that we have for this workshop is to help people become equipped with tools to lead a more connected, conscious and inspired life - and by getting underneath the surface and understanding our triggers and our beliefs and values that keep us stuck."
Growing up feeling not worthy, not lovable or not smart enough are among conditions that lead to perfectionism in adulthood, Watt says.
As adults, they may be happier if they forgo judgment and embrace compassion, striving for excellence rather than perfection, the facilitators suggest.
"The perfectionist is, 'I must not make a mistake. I must be right about everything. I must not fail. I must dot every i and cross every t and I must get everything done, and only me, because it has to be done to my standards,' " Beauchamp says.
"And excellence is, 'You're paying me for this job. I am good at what I do, you're going to get a quality product on time.' It's not carrying the baggage, it's embracing your strengths and operating from that place."
Overcoming perfectionism allowed Beauchamp to enjoy a reunion with old friends visiting Victoria for the first time in many years. The self-critical Beauchamp might have opted out to hide weight gain due to fertility treatments. Instead, she went as herself - a consciously authentic step, considering her sense of self-worth growing up was rooted in her looks and what she could do for people.
"I went and didn't give them any excuses as to why I was carrying extra weight," she recalls. "I would have missed out on this great opportunity if I was hiding from the truth.
"One of our key messages is that I'm a good-enough-ist," Beauchamp says. "We always talk about [whether] people have 'wait' problems. People wait for perfect conditions to be happy. And that's just not realistic."
To register: Go to timescolonist.com/life or call 250-391-2513 or register in person today in the Grant Building, Room 117, from 8: 30 a.m. to 4: 30 p.m.