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Perfect-o Meter

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In this article, the author discusses our dealings with perfectionism, in ourselves and in others. Do you have an internal "Perfect-o Meter?"

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Perfect-o Meter

The phone rang loudly besides me, it's electronic clanging disrupting the peaceful thoughts that floated through my mind as I enjoyed a first cup of morning coffee on the porch. "You forgot to enter a note on Mrs. S for Interdisciplinary Team Meeting this morning. Can you fix that by 8 a.m.? After quick "I'm sorries" and a few pleasantries, we hung up and I walked over to the computer. A few minutes later, task completed, I returned to my now-cool coffee and sat down only to hear the nurse in my head, the one with the "Perfect-o Meter" set on "10" wagging a scolding finger at me and singing that old song, "You're no good, you're no good, baby, you're no good." I shook my head to shoo her away and calmly addressed her accusation with reality: I am a wonderful nurse, experienced and caring. Yes, I make mistakes. But I keep moving forward."

After the imaginary conversation was over, I tried to return to my morning meditation time, holding the re-heated cup of coffee to warm my chilly hands, enjoying the day off. But I couldn't stop thinking about the small omission and the drive to perfection. How do we cope with "the perfect nurse" of our imagination? Even harder, how do we cope with the real life nurse-sometimes our managers or co-workers-who really do seem to have it all together, never make mistakes, and have their Perfect-o Meters set on a steady "10"?

First, a pause for consideration. The truth is no one is perfect. All of us are humans and do make mistakes of omission and of commission. Mistakes of omission, like mine, can be either unimportant in the scheme of things or more serious. Depending on the type of work we do, we can all supply examples. Simply forgetting to do something, to chart something, to add something, can have unintended consequences. On the other hand, omissions can also involve leaving work for the next shift or careless management of our time so that we are unable to complete the work before us. Whether it is a mistake of omission or commission-doing something that is not exactly right-we are often left discouraged with ourselves, processing the same event over and over, wishing we could fix it. Unfortunately, when this happens we tend to mentally compare ourselves with others.

So how do we deal with our own Perfect-o Meter's setting and also deal with others? Mistakes are one thing,but there is also the general day-to-day nursing where someone whose meter is set on high can make us feel inadequate-even when we are doing a good job. Or the other side of that-if our meter is set higher we can feel critical of other nurses' efforts and try to do too much because we feel no one else does it as well as we do. Either approach can be defeating and leave us burnt out and sad.

One way to begin to cope with this is simple acceptance of who we are and how we are made. Now this doesn't mean excusing ourselves for our bad behaviors, "Oh, I just blow up like that." or "I can't help it if I am slow." There are always things in our inner make-up that we need to work to improve; but there is a great deal of beauty in acknowledging that we are "fearfully and wonderfully made" and that is not just a description of physical bodies but also our personalities and dispositions.

A car with a full tank doesn't run better than a car with a half a tank. They both run just fine. The amount of gas that propels them forward is irrelevant to the ultimate arrival at their destination.

We all have natural Perfect-o Meters. While one is set on a high "10", another nurse, also an excellent clinician may be set at a more casual "7.5." This doesn't mean that the 7.5 person is less or more. They simply are. Sometimes we go around disliking ourselves so much that we have little left to offer our patients and our co-workers. Or on the other hand, we exercise little tolerance for those who don't operate quite as efficiently as we do, thereby transmitting that critical vibe that makes others uncomfortable and undermines good working relationships.

So what to do here? First, we learn to love who we are as we are. Let's turn off the mental recordings that sing the "You're no good" song and tell those voices to back off. Instead, we work to find voices of affirmation and encouragement to fill our heart and soul. We try to avoid the toxic people when possible in favor of those who express love and acceptance toward others and who recognize their own worth, no matter where their particular meter is set. When we are full to the brim with quiet confidence, we can make allowances for ourselves and for others. Wherever we are on the Perfect-o Meter, we are good!

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Joy has been a nurse for 35 years, practicing in a variety of settings. Currently, she is a Faith Community Nurse. She enjoys her grandchildren, cooking for crowds and taking long walks.

14 Likes, 4 Followers, 81 Articles, 144,544 Visitors, and 358 Posts.

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I have so many thoughts on this topic but I think they would come across as a rebuttal, which I don't want to do.

I will say that I am one of those charged with making sure everyone is in compliance as well as other responsibilities. I would no more expect you or anyone else to be perfect nor to measure themselves against my performance. What I would expect is to hear the message about the missed documentation, not take it personally or internalize it as not being good enough (it's just a Medicare requirement that we have to meet and someone is tasked with making sure those requirements are met), complete it as soon as is reasonable, hear me when I tell you I see your hard work and think you're awesome and believe you're valued for all of the amazing care you provide.

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I tend to be a little hard on myself when I make the slightest mistake. I'm one of those that can not wait for the opportunity to fix it. Anxious all the while if I can't immediately address it.

Even then, afterwards I'm constantly rehearsing in my head. Embarrassed that my supervisor even had to take time out of his/her busy schedule to address me. ME! I say to myself as if I'm supposed to be the perfect one whom no one should ever have to worry about ...

A bit silly when you think about it really. I like this article because it addresses an all too familiar battle against your own self and the way you view the world around you.

I hope we hear from more readers on their views.:up:

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I have so many thoughts on this topic but I think they would come across as a rebuttal, which I don't want to do.

I will say that I am one of those charged with making sure everyone is in compliance as well as other responsibilities. I would no more expect you or anyone else to be perfect nor to measure themselves against my performance. What I would expect is to hear the message about the missed documentation, not take it personally or internalize it as not being good enough (it's just a Medicare requirement that we have to meet and someone is tasked with making sure those requirements are met), complete it as soon as is reasonable, hear me when I tell you I see your hard work and think you're awesome and believe you're valued for all of the amazing care you provide.

Well said, Libby. The work that you do in assuring compliance is critical to nursing and to the ongoing excellent care that we are charged to provide. I hope the article inspires us to be able to work together when we have different approaches to life--personality differences that can be grating at times if we allow them to be. But let's keep on doing our tasks to a "T" and exceeding expectations every time!

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I tend to be a little hard on myself when I make the slightest mistake. I'm one of those that can not wait for the opportunity to fix it. Anxious all the while if I can't immediately address it.

Even then, afterwards I'm constantly rehearsing in my head. Embarrassed that my supervisor even had to take time out of his/her busy schedule to address me. ME! I say to myself as if I'm supposed to be the perfect one whom no one should ever have to worry about ...

A bit silly when you think about it really. I like this article because it addresses an all too familiar battle against your own self and the way you view the world around you.

I hope we hear from more readers on their views.:up:

Thank you for your comment. The negative voices we hear in our heads can be the hardest to overcome. While others are content to see us address the problem, fill out the incident report and move on, we sometimes struggle with allowing ourselves the same grace. Have a great day!

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We are hardest on ourselves. But so are our employers. Often, EVERY little thing short of expectations is blown out of proportion, or we never, ever hear anything positive about the good things we do.

Yes, it must come from inside us, but it also needs to come from our supervisors and managers. Hearing "you do an excellent job" or more specifically, about things we do well would do a lot to quell the "perfecto-meter" angst. I try to give positive feedback to coworkers when I can. I think it changes the whole shape of our day.

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My meter went into overdrive during school and didn't stop until somewhere during my fourth year of nursing. I was a perfection driven diva nurse, narcissistic to the core. Anything less than perfection was a fail to me.

Part of the reason for this was: I didn't know how to cope with the realities of our profession. It felt as if someone had turned up the difficulty setting on this game called life. It went from beginner to expert overnight, no warnings. The only thing I could figure out to do was to make sure I outscored everyone around me. That way, I at least knew I wasn't completely failing.

This approach served me well during my first three years in nursing. Awards, high survey scores, a favorite of management and administration was pressuring me to pursue a higher degree so I could become management.

This approach also made me crash and burn, very suddenly. There was a certain imagined finality to my decline that scared me.

I eventually learned I had to apply balance to my life. An introspective assessment of the "me" I had become revealed this. The me I had become was going places I didn't wish to be, so nothing short of reinventing myself would help me.

I stopped being a two dimensional rubik's cube and started taking care of myself in all areas of my life, not just the professional side.

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We are hardest on ourselves. But so are our employers. Often, EVERY little thing short of expectations is blown out of proportion, or we never, ever hear anything positive about the good things we do.

Yes, it must come from inside us, but it also needs to come from our supervisors and managers. Hearing "you do an excellent job" or more specifically, about things we do well would do a lot to quell the "perfecto-meter" angst. I try to give positive feedback to coworkers when I can. I think it changes the whole shape of our day.

You sound like a wonderful co-worker! Joy

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My meter went into overdrive during school and didn't stop until somewhere during my fourth year of nursing. I was a perfection driven diva nurse, narcissistic to the core. Anything less than perfection was a fail to me.

Part of the reason for this was: I didn't know how to cope with the realities of our profession. It felt as if someone had turned up the difficulty setting on this game called life. It went from beginner to expert overnight, no warnings. The only thing I could figure out to do was to make sure I outscored everyone around me. That way, I at least knew I wasn't completely failing.

This approach served me well during my first three years in nursing. Awards, high survey scores, a favorite of management and administration was pressuring me to pursue a higher degree so I could become management.

This approach also made me crash and burn, very suddenly. There was a certain imagined finality to my decline that scared me.

I eventually learned I had to apply balance to my life. An introspective assessment of the "me" I had become revealed this. The me I had become was going places I didn't wish to be, so nothing short of reinventing myself would help me.

I stopped being a two dimensional rubik's cube and started taking care of myself in all areas of my life, not just the professional side.

Thank you for sharing so transparently. I know your post will benefit others. Yes, caring for ourselves is key to long term survival and success as a nurse. Bless you as you pursue balance. Joy

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I've definitely had that 'conversation' with myself, as well as occasionally comparing myself somewhat to other nurse's skill, performance level, whatever you want to call it. But I think all we can do is to do the best we can, learn from - and hopefully never repeat - mistakes, learn/review whatever we think we need to, and that's it (but it's enough to deal with!).

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