5 Ways to Build Wealth (Even as a Perfectionist)
Perfectionism is both a blessing and a curse. You are continually improving, highly conscientious, hard-working and detail-oriented. BUT you also have a tendency to be critical not only of yourself but others when failing to meet your lofty expectations.
I’ll make a confession … I’m a perfectionist. No matter the number of daily accomplishments or instances of kindness towards others, there is this nagging feeling of discontent each night when my head hits the pillow.
Instead of being happy that I made the appointment to get my long-overdue oil change and battery check, I’m frustrated by leaving a meeting late and arriving 10 minutes past my appointment time. The auto shop was still able to get me in.
Rather than being excited that my family bonded over dinner, I think about bedtime. My youngest son ignored all pleas to come upstairs and start the bedtime routine on time, so I raised my voice and now regret it.
The struggle is real, and Brene Brown’s book Dare to Lead articulates this struggle well:
“Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving for excellence. Perfectionism is not about healthy achievement and growth. It is a twenty-ton shield that we lug around, thinking it will protect us, when in fact it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from being seen.”
There’s a fine line between perfectionism and self-improvement. Perfectionism is approval-seeking, and it is focused on external approval. My root sin as a perfectionist is anger. When I yell at my son for failing to follow simple instructions (for the umpteenth time), I care more in that moment about what my neighbors will think if they hear the shouts – not how hurtful the yelling is for my child.
How others perceive us is outside of our control. We wear protective armor to keep feelings of shame, judgment and failure at bay, but it hampers our ability to connect with people in an authentic, vulnerable way. Instead, strive for a healthy level of internal excellence and confide in a trustworthy friend when you encounter difficulty.
Let’s bring this concept full circle. Money is only one measure of wealth. To build wealth as a perfectionist, you need a slightly different set of tools than everyone else.
1. Give yourself grace.
As we have already established, perfectionists are very hard on themselves. You carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. You only view yourself as successful when you do the right thing, produce high quality work, foster great relationships, stay physically fit, dress appropriately, and give the façade that everything is wonderful. You expect to do this all the time. The truth is this: you will never be perfect. There is at least one area of life where you will fall short.
God freely gives us this phenomenal gift called grace. He doesn’t ask for anything in return. He has already paid the price. Appreciate God’s grace the next time you are tempted to feel like a failure because the results are less than anticipated.
2. Invest in your strengths.
One of my prior employers had an annual review process whereby they evaluated each employee’s strengths and weaknesses. During the one-on-one review, my boss started by explaining all the great things I was doing at work. The vast majority of the comments were fantastic! But the rest of the day (and following weeks), I ruminated on the areas of improvement. My weaknesses overshadowed my strengths. For the record, no one in the firm had 100% excellence in each area of measurement.
After leaving that employer, I took the StrengthsFinder assessment. It was liberating! I began looking at my top 5 strengths and tailored my workday to capitalize on those strengths. I am still acutely aware of weaknesses but try to delegate those items to others as much as possible.
When is the last time you invested in your strengths? Professional athletes and musicians spend the vast majority of time practicing in their chosen sport or using their instrument. An opera singer will not waste precious time learning how to play the guitar, just as a baseball player will not spend his time practicing free throws. Hobbies are one thing, but excellence at work can be tailored to your specific talents.
3. Be vulnerable.
The armor we carry as perfectionists is heavy. Couple that with introversion, and people may even find you rude. You don’t need to become friends with everyone, but you should let a few close friends in. Allow them to get to know the real you, the “you” who lays down her armor and shares a few intimate stories.
We are meant for community. When a curveball is thrown your way, who strengthens and supports you? Be vulnerable with these people, and they will reciprocate.
4. Celebrate the small wins.
Is it hard for you to live in the moment? Seeking to continuously improve, you may be quite future-focused. Life is a journey, not a destination. When we spend too much time and energy thinking about what-if scenarios, we often do not appreciate the blessings right in front of us. For some, a daily gratitude list or journal is the answer. For others, it is simply acknowledging when you have achieved a goal.
If your goal is to increase savings by $12,000 this year and you consistently put $1,000 monthly into the savings account, reward yourself on a monthly or quarterly basis rather than waiting until the end of the year. Celebrating success along the way makes the rest of the journey even easier and more enjoyable. The “treat” need not be monetary; you can arrange for a candlelight dinner at home with your spouse or picnic in the park with kids. Maybe your treat is one hour of uninterrupted reading in a good book. Make the reward personal.
5. Revisit goals.
If you are anything like me, you love goal-setting. It gives you something tangible to pursue and keeps you motivated. But setting the same goals year after year causes stagnancy.
Annual goal-setters should set reminders quarterly or semi-annually to revisit their primary goals. Why are you pursuing a particular goal? Is it really that important anymore? Have you made less progress than originally intended? Maybe revising the goal is most appropriate. You could change the timeline (i.e. finish by December instead of September) or modify the target (i.e. save $9,000 rather than $12,000).
Also remember that we go through different stages of life. When you have young kids, you are working hard to protect, feed, and potty-train them. This may not be the best time to run a marathon. As your kids get older, you might have free time to pursue passion-projects. Be open and willing to adapt as your life circumstances change.