Breaking Perfection's Chains: Navigating Perfectionism on the Spectrum
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Introduction: (0:23 - 4:00)
Stephen McHugh: "Hi there, and welcome to the Stephen’s Evolution podcast! I’m delighted to have you join me. I'm Stephen McHugh, your Stephen McHugh. I have Asperger’s, a form of autism, and I make fortnightly episodes based on my lived experiences with the condition.
And just before we get into the main part of the episode, a reminder that I’m leaving time stamps in the show notes to make it easier and quicker for you to access a particular segment that may pique your curiosity.
In this particular episode, we're going to be diving deep into a topic together that has shaped my life in ways I never imagined: perfectionism. But before we get into my personal journey and how I've been working to overcome it, let's start with the basics."
Stephen McHugh: "Perfectionism. It's a word that gets thrown around a lot, but what does it really mean? Well, at its core, perfectionism is the relentless pursuit of flawlessness, the never-ending quest for excellence, and the constant need to measure up to impossibly high standards—standards that we often set for ourselves."
Stephen McHugh: "But here's the catch: perfectionism isn't just about striving for excellence. It can be about fearing failure, avoiding criticism, and, sometimes, even paralysing ourselves with the fear of not being good enough. It's a double-edged sword that can drive us to achieve great things but can also leave us feeling exhausted, anxious, and constantly dissatisfied."
Stephen McHugh: "And for me, as someone on the autism spectrum, perfectionism has often been a common behaviour and preoccupation. It's not just about wanting things to be 'perfect’, it can also be about finding comfort and predictability in the pursuit of that perfection."
Stephen McHugh: "In this episode, I'm going to share my personal journey with perfectionism, taking you through the moments when it held me back, the epiphanies that helped me break free, and the strategies I've used to overcome it—while navigating the unique lens of autism. Because I believe that our individual experiences, neurodiverse or not, can offer valuable insights into this universal struggle."
Stephen McHugh: "So, whether you're on the autism spectrum like me, know someone who is, or simply want to explore how perfectionism can affect us all, stick around. We're about to dive deeper into the world of perfectionism, resilience, and personal growth."
Stephen McHugh: "But first, let's start at the beginning—the roots of my perfectionism and how it all began."
Transition to segment 1
The Impact of Perfectionism (4.04 - 6:53)
Stephen McHugh: "Now that we have a basic understanding of what perfectionism is, let's explore the impact it can have on our lives. You see, perfectionism isn't just a harmless quest for excellence, it can affect us on multiple levels—mentally, emotionally, and even physically."
Stephen McHugh: "One of the key characteristics of perfectionism is setting impossibly high standards for ourselves. We strive for flawlessness in everything we do, from our work and our relationships to our personal goals. But this pursuit of perfection can come at a cost."
Stephen McHugh: "For me, as someone on the autism spectrum, perfectionism often meant seeking order and predictability. It was my way of finding control and security in a world that can sometimes feel overwhelming. But I've come to realise that this quest for control can lead to anxiety and frustration when things don't go as planned."
Stephen McHugh: "But it's not just about my experience. Perfectionism is a universal struggle, affecting people from all walks of life. It can lead to burnout, self-doubt, and even feelings of isolation. For me it's a silent, internal battle that many of us fight every day."
Stephen McHugh: "So, why is it important to discuss perfectionism openly? Because by shedding light on this topic, we can begin to dismantle its hold on our lives. We can learn to recognise the signs of perfectionism, and take the necessary steps to address it."
Stephen McHugh: "In the upcoming segments, I'll share my personal journey of overcoming perfectionism, and we'll explore together practical strategies that have helped me along the way. We will also touch on the role of resilience, and how it can be a powerful tool in breaking free from the perfectionism trap."
Stephen McHugh: "So, whether you're someone who can relate to the constant pursuit of perfection, or you're simply curious about how it affects us all, stay with us. We're on a journey together of self-discovery and personal growth, and you're invited to join us every step of the way."
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Recognising the Struggle - Anecdotes from My Journey (6:57 - 10:47)
Stephen McHugh: "When I was young, I liked to build towers with red bricks only, and even when one brick jutted out, it would cause me some degree of distress. The same applied to building sandcastles in the garden, like when a castle didn't quite turn out as I'd wanted.
Stephen McHugh: "These childhood memories might seem innocent, but they were early signs of a perfectionism that would stay with me for years to come. In this segment, I'll take you through my journey of recognising and overcoming this perfectionism, from my student days to the present."
As a student, I once had a part-time job where I had to input handwritten details into a computer system. Sounds simple, right? Well, not for someone struggling with perfectionism."
Stephen McHugh: "Whenever I came across difficult-to-read handwriting, I would seek clarification repeatedly. It wasn't just about wanting to do a good job, it was the fear of making mistakes and looking incompetent. This approach slowed me down significantly, and, unfortunately, it resulted in me not being kept on for the job."
Stephen McHugh: "But it wasn't just in my job. My perfectionism made appearances in unexpected places, like my journey to get a driving licence. During one driving lesson, my instructor gave me some constructive advice that would change my perspective forever. She told me not to worry about perfection, but to focus on safe driving."
Stephen McHugh: "That moment was a turning point for me. It was when I began to appreciate that I had a perfectionism problem—one that extended far beyond the workplace. I made a bold decision to take my instructor's advice to heart, and it turned out to be one of the best decisions I've ever made."
Stephen McHugh: "By letting go of the need for perfection and shifting my focus to safe driving, something incredible happened. My progress sped up, and my concentration on the journey itself improved. It was as if a weight had been lifted, allowing me to enjoy the process instead of constantly worrying about the end result."
Stephen McHugh: "And here's an important insight that came from those experiences: perfectionism often leads to overthinking. It's like a never-ending cycle of doubt and self-criticism, where we dissect every detail, fearing any potential mistakes or imperfections."
Stephen McHugh: "In the next segment, we'll explore the strategies and techniques I've used to try and manage perfectionism and try and overcome it, including how I learned to manage this overthinking tendency. But first, remember that recognising the struggle is the first step toward change. It's about understanding that perfectionism can hold us back, but it doesn't have to define us."
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Strategies for Overcoming Perfectionism (10:52 - 14:30 )
Stephen McHugh: "In this segment, we're diving deeper into the journey of overcoming perfectionism. In the previous segment, I shared some pivotal moments from my past that helped me recognise and start addressing my perfectionism."
Stephen McHugh: "Now, let's talk about strategies—practical techniques and insights that have made a difference in my quest to break free from the chains of perfectionism."
Stephen McHugh: "A few months after finishing my studies, I found myself in another data entry job, where I'd be copying handwritten data into computers. It was a bit of déjà vu from my student days. The fear of making mistakes and seeking clarification on illegible handwriting was still there, but something had changed."
Stephen McHugh: "This time, the system I was working with had a clever feature. Whenever I came across illegible handwriting, especially with postcodes, it automatically displayed street names. This simple tool helped me confirm address information, especially when I had initial doubts. As a result, my input speed increased significantly, despite a slow start."
Stephen McHugh: "But it wasn't just about the technology. It was about resilience—the inner strength I'd built up over the years in overcoming obstacles linked to my autism. It gave me a confidence boost, a belief that I could tackle challenges successfully in my own right. This resilience, born out of my unique experiences, became a powerful strategy to combat perfectionism."
Stephen McHugh: "And here's an important lesson: sometimes, the strategies we need come from the work of others, like the creators of the software I used. It's about recognising that we don't have to go it alone and that there are tools and resources out there to support us in our journey."
Stephen McHugh: "Over the later years, I found myself in different jobs, doing some tasks where speed was less critical than accuracy. Going too quickly would mean more time wasted on correcting errors. This shift in focus taught me another valuable lesson—perfectionism doesn't always serve us well. Sometimes, it's about finding the right balance between striving for excellence and recognising that perfection is an elusive goal."
Stephen McHugh: "In the next segment, we'll explore more strategies and techniques that can help you on your journey to overcome perfectionism. Remember, it's not about erasing your desire to excel but about channelling it in a way that allows you to thrive and grow."
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Challenges and Traces of Perfectionism (14:35 - 19:27)
Stephen McHugh: "In this segment, I want to take a closer look at some of the challenges and traces of perfectionism that I've encountered in different aspects of my life—specifically, in driving, cooking, and my journey in podcasting and blogging."
Stephen McHugh: "Let's start with driving. When I was learning to drive, one of the most significant challenges I faced was the need for what I'll call the 'perfect gap.' I would often find myself waiting for what seemed like an ideal moment to emerge at roundabouts and junctions. It was as if I was searching for that flawless opening in traffic."
Stephen McHugh: "Over the years, however, I've gained valuable driving experience, and this 'perfect gap' challenge has become less of an issue. I've learned to be a better judge of gaps in traffic, and it's something the examiner on my test even mentioned at the end. It's a testament to how we can grow and adapt when we confront our perfectionist tendencies."
Stephen McHugh: "Now, let's talk about cooking. There was a time when I undercooked burgers, evidenced by the lingering pink in their centres. It was a clear indication of my fear of imperfection. But instead of letting it deter me from cooking, I took a different approach."
Stephen McHugh: "I began to check the doneness of burgers by cutting them open during cooking and ensuring they were thoroughly cooked. Sometimes, I even overcooked them in my quest for perfection. But what I learned is that cooking, like life, is about adjustments. You adjust the temperature, the time, and your approach based on your experiences. It's a reminder that perfectionism doesn't have to be an obstacle; it can be a stepping stone to improvement."
Stephen McHugh: "And in my journey of podcasting and blogging, there were moments when I felt overwhelmed or encountered difficulties. During such times, I found that taking a break or going for a walk to clear my thoughts helped immensely. It allowed me to come back refreshed at a later time, ready to tackle whatever task I had planned, with a clearer perspective."
Stephen McHugh: "These strategies, like taking breaks and seeking clarity, became essential tools in my journey to manage perfectionism and find a balance between striving for excellence and embracing the imperfections of the creative process."
Stephen McHugh: "Having said all that, the positive feedback and compliments I've received from visitors to my blog have been incredibly reassuring. For me, it's evidence that what I'm doing is good enough, and it encourages me to keep going. These moments of validation remind me that growth and progress are more important than perfection."
Stephen McHugh: "And one more thing that's been a part of my journey in managing perfectionism is my faith. It has provided me with strength and guidance, reminding me that I don't have to carry the burden of perfection on my own."
Stephen McHugh: "So, in these various activities—driving, cooking, and content creation—I've experienced growth by confronting and managing my perfectionism. It's a journey, one where we learn that imperfection is not a flaw but a part of our wonderful human experience."
"And before we move on, I want to take this opportunity to thank you for being part of my journey. Now, get ready for something special in Segment 5. It's all about you, my listeners."
Stephen McHugh: "It’ll be a chance to share your stories, insights, and questions related to perfectionism. No matter who you are, your voice will matter, and could form part of an engaging discussion."
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Listener Engagement (19:32 - 21:50)
"Here, in segment 5, I want to create a space for all my listeners, whether you're on the autism spectrum, supporting someone who is, or simply interested in the topic. Your stories, experiences, and insights can not only be valuable but also a source of inspiration and learning for our entire community."Stephen McHugh:
"If you're on the autism spectrum, we'd love to hear about your personal journey. Have you faced challenges related to perfectionism or found strategies that have helped you thrive? Your stories can provide hope and guidance to others who may be on a similar path."Stephen McHugh:
"For those who support individuals on the autism spectrum, your experiences matter too. Share your insights into how you've helped someone navigate the complexities of perfectionism. Your tips and advice can be a lifeline for others in similar roles."Stephen McHugh:
"But we're not just limited to those directly impacted by autism. If you have any stories or tips related to overcoming perfection, regardless of your background, I would welcome your contributions too. The more diverse our perspectives, the richer our understanding can become."Stephen McHugh:
"To share your stories, experiences, or insights, you can visit my website at stephensevolution.com, and that’s Stephen with a P H. or find me on social media at twitter.com/StephensEvol78, which is all one word. You can also send me an email at [email protected]
"Additionally, if you have questions or specific topics related to autism and perfectionism that you'd like me to explore in future episodes, please don't hesitate to reach out. Your input can shape the direction of my podcast." Transition
Conclusion: Embracing Growth (21:54 - 22:39)
Stephen McHugh: "As we wrap up today's episode, here are the key takeaways:
1. Perfectionism can be both a driving force and a paralysing fear.
2. Embrace imperfection—it's a stepping stone to improvement.
3. Strategies like resilience and learning from others can help manage perfectionism.
4. Share your stories and insights; our community thrives on your engagement.
5. Remember, perfectionism is a journey, not a destination.
Outro (22:43 - End)
Stephen McHugh: "And last but not least, if you appreciate this podcast and find value in the content, please consider subscribing, rating, and leaving a review. You can find me on various platforms where you can leave ratings and reviews at Apple, Spotify, Podchaser, or Podcast Addict. Your feedback could make a real difference in spreading awareness
You can also find a link to the subscription page at the footer of the home page of my website stephensevolution.com. It is here, where you can sign up to receive news of forthcoming, and newly released episodes. Your support can help us reach a wider audience, and continue to provide valuable content."
Stephen McHugh: "Thank you for being a part of the community here at the Stephen’s Evolution podcast. Together, it can be possible to create a supportive and informative space for everyone affected by autism and those interested in personal growth and overcoming challenges. Stay curious, stay compassionate, and keep growing."
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