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How Perfectionism Can Be Positive and Powerful with Katherine Morgan Schafler

Erin: [00:00:00] Welcome to Hotter Than Ever, where we uncover the unconscious rules we've been following. We break those rules and we find a new path. to being freer, happier, sexier, and more self expressed. I'm your host, Erin Keating. Today, I talked to psychotherapist Katherine Morgan Schafler about her amazing book, "The Perfectionist's Guide to Losing Control."

This conversation was a revelation to me. I have been a perfectionist of sorts my whole life. But I've always felt a little shame about my desire for order, my impulse to perfect and improve the projects and processes and particulars of the world around me. Katherine gives me permission to be my most [00:01:00] perfectionistic self in an adaptive way.

And she can give that to you as well. Katherine unpacks the five different kinds of perfectionists. You may see yourself in one of them or several of them, which I did. And we talk about how the idea of perfectionism is gendered. It's like almost a social control code word for ambition in a woman.

Whereas a man may be seen to be a visionary or exacting or a driver or precise. All virtues in the world of career. Women are called perfectionists and told to seek balance, which Katherine says is also code for just adding a lot more tasks to your to do list. I felt really seen by Katherine's work. And if I lived in New York City, I would definitely want her to be my therapist. Here it is.

Katherine Morgan Schafler is a psychotherapist, writer and speaker and former onsite [00:02:00] therapist at Google. I'm sure she has seen some things there. She earned degrees and trained at UC Berkeley and Columbia University with postgraduate certification from the Association for Spirituality and Psychotherapy in New York City.

Her book, "The Perfectionist's Guide to Losing Control, A Path to Peace and Power" is mind blowing for those of us who all of our lives have thought of ourselves as a perfectionists and then thought of being a perfectionist as a thing to sort of be embarrassed about or apologize for. Welcome to Hotter Than Ever, Katherine.

Katherine: Thanks, Erin. I'm so happy to be here.

Erin: Are you a perfectionist, Katherine?

Katherine: Yes, I identify as being a perfectionist and I want to talk about the way I define perfectionist. Excellent. I think perfectionism is an innate human natural tendency. Now natural doesn't automatically mean healthy, but it can be expressed in [00:03:00] really healthy, beautiful ways.

It's a power. And like any power, the power of love, the power of wealth, the power of art, power of so many different things, it has an inherent dichotomy. So it can be really constructive if you use it consciously. And it can also be destructive if you are either unconscious about it or conscious about wanting to use it for nefarious purposes.

And so perfectionists to me describe somewhat who in a patterned way can see the ideal in front of them, right? They can see a newer, more improved version of what they can also see in front of them, which is the reality. And they see the reality plunked down in their lap and this sort of newer, improved, idealistic version, and they feel an active compulsion to bridge the gap.

They feel that they can't let it go. And a lot of [00:04:00] people are like, Oh, why can't I relax? Why can't I just appreciate what I have? Why can't I do this? And what I offer in the perfectionist guide to losing control is that like, you can't because it's not who you are. And that's a beautiful thing. And. Unlike an idealist who doesn't have that active impulse.

Idealists can just say, wouldn't it be nice if we could all, let's use the example of eradicating world hunger, right? An idealist might think, gosh, that would be so wonderful if we could just eradicate it. A perfectionist is like, that would be so wonderful. I know that we could eradicate so much of it. I need to figure out how to start that thing that I might not even be able to finish that will never get done.

That will never be perfect. And that's a great thing. And I say perfectionists are people who see the world in that patterned way because we all have a perfectionist in us, [00:05:00] right? We all have a little bit of an activist in us or a romantic, but people who really describe themselves in those ways, feel those identities for a lifetime. That's why when ever I hear a perfectionist talk, they're not like, I was being such a perfectionist last Tuesday.

Erin: No, it doesn't come and go. It just is.

Katherine: It's like, this is who I am. And if you're a romantic, it's not going to serve you to try to be practical and stop believing in love. That's not going to work. And if you're a perfectionist, it's not going to serve you to just try to let everything slide and not be attuned to the way that something could be better or improved. That's not going to work. What does work is to get really conscious about why you are putting your energy where you're putting it. And if that is in line with your values and then also putting boundaries around your pain points when you endeavor to be who you are in the world. [00:06:00]

Erin: I love that you describe it as a drive because that's how I experience it. It's not just a like, gosh, I wish everything was perfect or I wish things looked a certain way. I like that you called it a compulsion to like, you're compelled to change things in order to improve them, not just for superficial reasons, but almost for idealistic reasons, almost for like, I know this is going to make things better. If I do this and I don't really have a choice about whether I want it to be better or not, you know, I see what is possible. There's almost like a visionary quality to a perfectionist.

Katherine: There is absolutely a visionary quality because you have to see something that's not there. And also the word compulsion scares people and for good reason.

But if you think about being a human being, like we are compelled to want to speak. We are compelled to want to be in the room with other human beings. [00:07:00] We are compelled to touch. And it's not a sign or status of health. If you get yourself to a point where you. can conquer all those compulsions because some compulsions are simply human compulsions.

Storytelling is a great example, you know?

And so people here are like, well, perfectionists aren't healthy because they kind of have to, they can't let it go. Well, You have to do a lot of stuff other than eat and sleep as a human being, like talk or see another person or just hear a story or things that we don't think of as compulsory, but that are.

Erin: Yeah. Yeah. So why are some people perfectionists and other people's people are not perfectionist to the chagrin of all the perfectionists in the world?

Katherine: Well, it depends on where your perfectionism is coming from. The research world has for decades identified two different types of [00:08:00] perfectionism, healthy perfectionism and unhealthy perfectionism.

And the research words for that are adaptive, which is the healthy kind and maladaptive. And so some people's perfectionism shows up because they don't feel that they are enough and everything that they do and try to achieve. is intended to compensate for some kind of perceived inadequacy.

Erin: I have felt that at times, and I have felt it feel healthy at times.

Katherine: Yeah, well, you're hitting on the fluidity of this, right? So I would love to be like, here's your checklist to see if you're healthy, and here's your one to see if you're on the bad It's like mental health does not work that way. We are at once healthy and unhealthy in all areas, depending on what's happening in our lives.

Like, what is this season like for you? What's happening in your body? Did you just have a baby? Are [00:09:00] you, you know, feeling the effects of a neuroendocrine hormonal landslide? Did you just go through a divorce? And your social world just turned upside down. So you don't have the support systems in place.

You know, are you financially solvent or did you just get out of some kind of financial crisis or maybe you're in the middle of it? It's like how our mental health is, is impacted by the contexts that we find ourselves in. That's right. And so what was really easy for you last year and didn't feel unhealthy might become very unhealthy and very challenging for you this year because. The you that is living those things out isn't the same you.

Erin: Say that again. Because I think we think of ourselves as much more black and white, much more fixed, much more singular than that. And I don't think we give ourselves [00:10:00] the grace of like, the moment that I'm in right now is impacting me in the following ways. And I'm going to see things through a different lens.

Katherine: Yeah. Thanks for slowing me down on that because it's a really core component of my work, which is that mental health is fluid and context based. Okay so I talk about this in my book, the difference between a challenge and a struggle. Is not the task itself.

It's not what you're doing. It's whether you feel supported and whether you feel a sense of connection in carrying out that task. Whatever it is. It could be a literal task, like doing the laundry or buying a house or finishing a deck is in a presentation deck. Or it could be an internal task like getting sober, right?

And the challenge. Part is, do I feel seen? Does someone understand me? Does another human being get what this is like for me? [00:11:00] Do I feel connected to someone? Loved? Supported? Etc. If you feel that, it's still gonna be hard. Really hard. It's gonna feel impossible at times, but you're not gonna struggle In the same way that you would, if you did not feel connection, if you did not feel seen, heard, understood, loved, you know, our level of connection, both to ourselves and our people, communities.

However, we conceptualize God or a higher power or science, whatever that is for you, the more unmoored we become from that sense of connection, the less alive we feel in the world. And so it's like, we just start going through the motions. And if you're living your life going through the motions, you start to disconnect in a way that makes you feel the opposite of alive inside.

You're just doing things and you're so [00:12:00] disconnected, you're bordering on dissociating where you're like, what happened this week? What did I do this year? Who, why did I marry this person? What's going on?

Erin: You know, I had all of these thoughts, Like I can really relate to this because like I was in my last job, I was in a job where I would say that my perfectionism was super maladaptive.

I was really like punishing myself with work and with achievement and with because I felt like if I could get that then it would compensate for the fact that like I was in an unhappy marriage and that I needed to get out of and I couldn't figure out my way out of it and I needed, I threw all my eggs into that basket of like, well, let me get the pats on the back and let me get the accomplishments and then, you know, but at the end of the day that didn't do it. I didn't do it for my soul, for my spirit. And I was very, almost dissociative, like disconnected from [00:13:00] what was really going on with me.

Katherine: Yeah. And I want to say that it is important that you tried because how else are we supposed to know if we're just in a funk because we're not sort of. keeping our side of the street clean, or whether it's because no matter how clean and tidy this is, this city that I'm living in doesn't work for me.

And so anyone who's listening, who is hurling themselves into some kind of particular area of their life, trying to like, do everything they can to make their life better and it's still not working is not wasting their time. They're just being able to kind of process of elimination here. Like it's not that you can't figure it out. It's that you just don't fit in whatever life is, is built that you've built your life around.

Erin: That's an even bigger problem to solve.

Katherine: Well, it is. And it [00:14:00] isn't like it's a problem. Um, And I'm glad you used that word because something that doesn't have a solution is not a problem to solve. It's a truth to accept. And I think a lot of us get confused when we try to do the, like, to use your example, my marriage is not right for me. And I know that on some level, but I haven't been able to say it out loud to myself. So let me throw everything at, at my job. And then we throw everything at the job, which isn't the problem.

And then we say things like, well, my job is perfect. Anyone would be so lucky. I feel so happy to have this. There must be something wrong with me. And then we make ourselves the problem. And then we, you know, and like, that stuff isn't the problem. And my, the premise of my whole book is based on a request to the reader that is bordering on a demand, which is like, can you assume [00:15:00] just for a page or two that nothing is wrong with you? Can you do that for me and mostly for yourself? Can you assume there's nothing wrong with you and Then, see how that changes your perspective.

Erin: It's so interesting because that was one of my biggest takeaways from your book, which is perfectionism is not an illness. And it's not something that you're going to get diagnosed with. And yet it is pathologized in our culture, especially in women. I don't even know if there are male perfectionists and we can talk about that. I feel like depression, anxiety, all OCD, these things are real diagnosable conditions.

Perfectionism is almost a state of being, but as women, I feel like we are told not to be perfectionist, that that is, that there's something weird about that, that there's something too, too strivey, too demanding, [00:16:00] too particular, too much about a perfectionist. And you know, it's, that was always my fake answer on a job interview where people would be like, what are your flaws? And I'd be like, I'm a perfectionist. You know, I really just want to get everything right. And sometimes they get frustrated when they, you know, I knew I was fucking bullshitting them. I'm like, I don't have any fucking flaws. I'm going to be amazing at this job, but you need me to say something that's socially acceptable. So I'm going to tell you, I'm a perfectionist.

Katherine: Ah, yeah. It is a highly gendered term, and we're using perfectionist as a placeholder for ambition. And we're telling women to stop being perfectionistic. The subtext of that is stop being ambitious. Stop seeking power, and you know what you should do instead?

The corollary directive to stop being a perfectionist is find balance. And that, that word balance is tossed around like confetti in commercial wellness. And it's tossed [00:17:00] around to women, not men, right? It's like in the littlest ways, which are the most notorious of ways, because the more subtle something is, the less you challenge it.

That's why, like, whenever people see a commercial, for example, they're always like, well, I know it's a commercial. It's not impacting me. Um, but then it's like, well, you remember the slogan for Red Robin, or you do this or you do that, and it's like salient in your mind for a reason. And the culture also has ways of communicating our values.

And nobody says in school, Hey, this is a misogynistic culture. So women, if you're a girl in this class or a woman, you need to understand that we're not going to treat you as if you're as smart, capable, powerful, or valuable as the boys and men. Nobody says that. What they say is stop being so bossy. When they see [00:18:00] girls being assertive, people don't say that to boys, right?

They say things like, stop being a perfectionist when women are ambitious and power seeking at work. And that's why power hungry is a term that is directed to women. Whereas the same behavior in men, that's called being an alpha male because men are supposed to be powerful. That's why words like, Oh, she's a strong minded woman.

Those descriptors, you don't say them to men. It's, it gains a superfluous quality. If you say, well, you know that guy, he's a, he's strong minded because the wink wink, you know, thing there is she has opinions. She said, shut up. She's strong minded. And you know, even just like as simple as like resting bitch face, there's no resting jerk face because women, the subtext of resting bitch face and the power of that The subtle, the subtle gender performance expectation nestled into that language is you are a [00:19:00] woman.

You are supposed to be palatable and pleasing at all times. And if you're not, you look like a bitch. Did you know that? Ha ha. Let's call it resting bitch face and make it funny and like let women in on the joke, but it's not a joke, you know?

Erin: And it conspires to keep us self conscious, right? It conspires to keep us outward facing, like how are we occurring for other people?

Whereas men, I feel like just walk through the world and are self accepting in a way where they're not constantly shape shifting and trying to adapt themselves on this very deep level in order to be palatable. Why is it so when you say the word power, I get a little bit like, Oh, are we supposed to talk about that?

Like women seeking power seems so it's like an anathema. Yeah. To what we're supposed to do. Like when I tell people, Oh, I want to be a mogul. I want this kind of success. I want to run a company. I want to do all of these things. Part of me feels like. I'm saying something [00:20:00] that I'm not supposed to be saying.

Katherine: Yeah. Well, you're not in this culture. You're not, you're not supposed to say that. You know what? You don't want to have kids. You're not supposed to say that you maybe enjoy having to sultry sex. You're not supposed to say that you want power or that you want to be rich, that your word for 2024 is money.

Right. You're not supposed to say a lot of stuff that outside of the realm of domesticity, right? The archetypal homemaker interest. That is when perfectionism is acceptable for women. Hence why Martha Stewart is so popular. Hence why Marie Kondo can sell all the books in the world to everybody's amazement and nobody criticizes her because it's like, Oh, this is so cool because it's about tidying up and Martha Stewart's company is about perfect wedding palettes that [00:21:00] pop. And you know, she was a stockbroker on Wall Street before she started that company, but nobody talks about that cause it's like off brand.

Erin: Right. Right. It's like you, those examples are so incredible to me because those women. Are incredible business people and they found a commodity that the culture could accept that embraces and almost requires a level of perfectionism, but it's to me that a kind of perfectionism that is a distraction from my own ambitions, right?

Like layered on top of my own personal ambitions are this notion that I need to be tidy, like Marie Kondo, and I need to entertain beautifully like Martha Stewart. I feel like that is almost, it almost reinforces the power structure.

Katherine: Yeah. That that's what balance is. I have a whole chapter in my book dedicated to [00:22:00] the idea that balance is not real. And the sooner we get that the freer you become and balance in, in its original context is a very curative, beautiful idea. But that is talking about energetic equilibrium.

Do you feel like you on the inside? Do you feel that's just right balance of like, God, I'm working so hard and this thing I care about and I am engaged and intellectually stimulated and like all the things also a little bit tired, but tired in the best way.

And I feel sensual or playful or curious or whatever. I feel balanced. Balance has come to have an external definition, which is, Can you complete all the tasks without dropping the ball? And it has nothing to do with how you feel on the inside and everything to do with, did you pick the kids up? Wow. And you did that presentation and you're hosting a podcast.[00:23:00] You are so balanced.

And women get patted on the head for doing all this external stuff, which shakes out to doing a lot of things for a lot of people who aren't that person, who aren't that woman, right? Like taking care of elderly parents, taking care of kids, taking care of the house, plus working, plus doing all this other stuff and working as in like, in some kind of paid work is what I mean.

Obviously the other stuff is also work and that's what balance has come to mean. It's like this cardboard cutout of what balance actually is and it has nothing to do with health. It just has come to mean being good at being busy. That's not what real balance is.

Erin: Yeah, but it takes a certain strength to resist that narrative, right? To resist the desire to check all the cultural boxes and to be all the things to all the people. Like, how do you summon the strength in yourself to [00:24:00] say, this is what's important to me, and this is what I'm going to focus on, and yeah, the sink is full of dishes, and yeah, someone else is picking up my kids five days a week. And yeah, I don't have time for the PTA.

I have often found like the mommy culture stuff to be so oppressive and I just want nothing to do with it. I just want to raise my kids the way I want to raise my kids and I don't want to have to participate. But I've always felt the mommies who do participate, I have no way to connect with them because I'm pursuing my own sort of internally defined ambitions and they don't really have to do With bringing snacks, like I'm just not going to do it, but it does make me feel like an asshole.

Katherine: Well, so here's the thing. It's a two part answer. The first part is like, you don't need to find the strength because if you keep trying, you'll find the exhaustion because it's impossible and you'll just burn out in some way.

And that's how I think most people come [00:25:00] to a lot of realizations about a lot of important things. It's like we had for whatever reason, Erin, we just have to learn ourselves. People can tell us that that person you're dating is bad news, but we have to have so many episodes of drama, particularly when we're younger, before we get it.

And we just have to cycle through trying to be all things to all people at all times before we get it like, Oh, this is unsustainable. Even if I can do that, the resentment I feel inside the emptiness, I feel the frustration that I don't have any space for me in the world. Like I can't manage that. So that's part one, like you don't need to find the strength because you're going to find the exhaustion whether you want to or not. It's unsustainable. It's not possible.

And so number two is the way that you, after you have the awareness component is to say like, okay, how do I put stuff on the back burner? It all looks important to me. Like I really genuinely wish I could do it all is that you [00:26:00] pick five values. That you value for this season in your life. Seasons change, people change, the needs of our families change, the needs of our professions change. So just focus on this season. What is important to you right now?

I happen to have a daughter who's really young. It's important for me to be physically present as much as I can right now. That value is going to shift when she's a teenager. It's going to shift to something else, right? When I was really young and paying my dues at work, it was important to me to work all the time a lot so that I could get as much information as I could like that kind of thing is not as important to me now.

So pick five values and then if you want to do an exercise, take a piece of paper. And on the left side of the paper, write five values and I'll put a line down the middle of the piece of paper---

Erin: I love this by the way, we're all going to do this. Okay. Keep going.

Katherine: [00:27:00] Okay. On the right side of the column, talk, write down like one example of how you are animating that value in your daily life. And if you can't think of an example, that means you're not animating that value enough. That's okay. That just, it's just all good information to have. So then think of like, what would this look like in my daily life?

Okay. If, if for example, connection or honesty, those are two values. What does it look like if you're someone who leads with the value of honesty? Maybe that means that you have one honest text exchange with a friend. You know, not talking about world changing stuff here, just left side value, right side. What does that look like animated in your everyday life? And then I want you to flip the paper over and on the back right, five values that you have decided you no longer want to prioritize.[00:28:00]

Because if you don't identify both what's important to you right now, and also what is no longer important to you, then you're gonna get caught up in the headspace of these things are important and I still have to do the other stuff. And it's going to blur. The priority is going to blur. You have to be able to draw a line and say, I've decided that's not important for me right now.

And then live out the season of, of your life, however long it is, maybe it's two months, three years, whatever. And then guess what, if you are discovering that it's not working for you, you get to course correct. So that's how you do that. And I'll give you an example of a value I let go of and one that I decided to give myself permission to find important, which I'm still uncomfortable with a little bit because it seems frivolous.

Um, so the value that I decided to let go of is tradition. [00:29:00] I used to, you know, I grew up in a way where we didn't have a lot of traditions and I used to really think. That tradition is the foundation of structure and structure is the foundation of kind of like feeling calm and safe in your home. And like, Oh, I know that every holiday we do this or that, and there was something really reassuring about the idea of tradition, like sweet also, like to seem quaint.

Erin: My kids would love to have all kinds of traditions. Yeah.

Katherine: And then I started practicing and. Every single without fail holiday season, I would have a client who's like, if my parents and then they would be like in their twenties, thirties, if my parents make me wear those fucking matching holiday PJ sets for the picture. And it would cause so much friction and like real sense of, I don't want to [00:30:00] do this. And then the parents pushing back in some way, this is important to me. This is our tradition. This is what's important to me. Well, you, you're infantilizing me, like I'm married, I have my own kids. I don't want to be in this.

And it's like so much gets lost in what is the intention of that tradition? Is it to bring people together? Is it then? So for me, I was like, instead of traditions. I want to think of it as like a ritual of connection and those kind of shape shifts.

So right now we, we celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas in my house. And when we get the same day, we get the Christmas tree is the day we make Christmas cookies. And that's a ritual. My daughter decides. She becomes a teenager and she's like, I'm not eating sugar because this and that, I'm not going to make her do that with me, I'm just going to say, okay, like, how else do we want to connect right now?

And so tradition is no longer a value I care about. And that also looks like saying, oh, my sister in law can't come in on this day. So we're going to [00:31:00] celebrate Christmas on the 28th this year. And this is a big thing with divorced couples too, who are co parenting.

It's like the tradition of a holiday being on this day, maybe that's not that important to you. I Maybe it's more about a ritual of connection and it doesn't matter what day it is, you know?

Erin: Right, right. I love that. I love that. I also love the idea that you can back to the lists, like when you decide you're prioritizing a certain thing that you are going to kick something else out that you were prioritizing. It's almost like that rule of thumb where you buy a new piece of clothing and then you have to take one out of your closet.

Katherine: Yeah. Yeah. And there's a lot of values that like value lists are so seductive. They all look good. It's like integrity, honesty, adventure, sense of humor, playfulness, you know, it's like, Whoa, but some low hanging fruit of values you can kick off the curve.

Or it's like punctuality. Is that really important? Propriety. Is that really important to you? Like these kinds of things are very important to some [00:32:00] people and that's all well and good, truly like no judgment in either direction.

But if you're, if one of your values on the front of your paper is playfulness and you get to the end of the day and your house is a mess because you spent a big chunk of it, let's say you were cooking and you threw flour and, and you know, your partner's face or your friend's face or whatever, there's a little food fight and, and there's a mess.

And like that mess is now interpreted through the eyes of playfulness and through the eyes of like, yes, I am living in integrity where my values are aligned with my actions. And is it a pain in the ass that my house is messy and do I wish it could be clean magically? Sure. Yeah, but this is evidence of my value. You know, it's not evidence of any failure.

Erin: I love that because I don't know that we back up enough. In our lives to have, I, at this time of year, I'm always like searching for some soul searching exercise that I can do to set the table for next year [00:33:00] so that I can accomplish and feel and experience all the things I want to experience in this next cycle.

But that takes a lot of focus and effort and self awareness and time to carve out even the time to carve out to make the list and to flip the paper over. We don't give ourselves that. We don't give that reflection time to ourselves. We're too busy doing.

Katherine: I'm again, so glad you brought this up because it's another sort of reframe that I offer in the book is to manage your energy, not your time. And this idea comes from a life changing article I read in her, in the Harvard business review by Tony Schwartz and Catherine McCarthy. And they talked about how it's not that we run out of time to do stuff, even though time constraints is the number one grievance of people. Really. It's like, I wish I had just had time.

Then I would write the book. Then I could clean the [00:34:00] house. Then I could do this. Then I could do that. It's that we run out of energy. It's not that you couldn't find 15 minutes to go through the unopened mail stack yesterday. It's that when those 15 minutes came, you were so depleted that you couldn't imagine doing anything other than going through your emails and deleting the spam content or looking at Netflix for an indefinite amount of time in your PJs in bed, or just like eating, even though you're not hungry or having another glass of wine, even though you can't taste it anymore.

It's like we run out of energy. And so if you focus on energy management instead of time management, it's a lot easier to do things like this list that we're talking about, which is honestly a less than five minute exercise. Like everyone has the time to do it, but do you have the energy to do it?

And it's okay to say, no, I don't have the [00:35:00] energy for that right now. That's a good signal that you need to recalibrate where your energy is going because, think about that. You don't have the energy to do a five minute list, so you're hemorrhaging energy from somewhere. Where you hemorrhaging it from?

Who is not reciprocating or what is not reciprocating the energy? Because I spend a lot of energy throughout the day. I also get a lot of energy back for my friends, from my work, from all that stuff.

Erin: Right. You talk in the book about So, eudaemonic and hedonic well being, and hedonic being, um, doing things in order to avoid pain, and eudaemonic is in order to increase meaningfulness.

Um, so, can you speak to that? Because that really resonated for me. Because meaningfulness... For me is the [00:36:00] guiding purpose of everything, like I will work my ass off if it feels deep, if it feels meaningful, if it feels like there's going to be some kind of way of connecting to other people at the end of a project or product that, that I believe there is a purpose to doing whatever it is that I'm doing.

Making a podcast, whatever the project is. I really am motivated by depth and meaning. I have often said about my career in media, I'm not a mercenary. You can't just pay me to do something I have to care. And if I don't care, I can't do a good job. And if I care, I'm going to fucking crush it. You will not believe the results I get, but sometimes in my life I have overworked in order to avoid pain.

And other times I have been purely driven by the desire to, to cultivate meaning. And I'm just so interested to hear what [00:37:00] you say about that beause that's a distinction I've never really heard before.

Katherine: I'm so struck by the way you're describing your life. It seems to come from such a place of knowing and honesty and like some raw stuff.

Erin: Oh yeah, I'm in it.

Katherine: So everyone knows this Intellectually, but we don't really absorb it emotionally, which is that getting stuff doesn't make you happy. What makes you happy is constructing meaning right and so Hedonists are people who seek pleasure, right? They just want to feel good and feel good in a sort of immediate gratification way.

Erin: I have that in me a hundred percent.

Katherine: So does everyone. We're human beings. [00:38:00] Instant gratification is like ding, ding, dopamine drip. We're literally wired to want it. Um, But when we get up 30, 000 feet in the air, what actually matters to us is to build meaning in our lives. And so you c an think about this through the difference between immediate gratification and pleasure. Because pleasure to me is way deeper than immediate gratification. It's not obvious. It's very individual to people like I am.

I get deep pleasure out of listening to people, right? Um, some people have deep pleasure out of starting conversations, right? Whatever it is for you, immediate gratification and pleasure can, this is how I distinguish them. Whatever the thing you're doing is, let's say it's eating cake. That's the event, right? And, and researchers have done well [00:39:00] to spell this out, that we don't just note our experiences in the event.

There's the anticipation of the event, which brings us lots of happiness and joy or dread and anxiety, depending on what it is. And there's the recall of the event.

So this is called the AER model: event, anticipation, event, recall.

Erin: That's like when we plan a vacation six months in advance, we can think about, Oh my God, when we get to the hotel, Oh my God, when we have, if we're going to go have this experience, there's so much pleasure in knowing the experience is coming.

Katherine: Yes. And similarly, there's a lot of anticipatory anxiety if you sign up for something that you don't want to do. So this is why sometimes we talk ourselves out of saying no to somebody because we're like, Oh, it's just a 30 minute coffee. No, it is not a 30 minute coffee. It is the week leading up [00:40:00] to the 30 minute coffee that you're dreading.

And it's also the recall of the 30 minute coffee where the person who you didn't want to meet in the first place, said the thing that offended you, which they always say something like that. That's why you don't like hanging out with them in the first place. And so we are really over indexed on the event.

If the event makes you feel good, it's either immediate gratification or pleasure. When something is a real true pleasure for you, anticipating the event will feel good and recalling the event will feel good. Taking a walk is a pleasure for me. I don't think about taking a walk and say, Ooh, I hope I don't walk too much. You know, like. Oh my God. What if I, and then I don't recall taking a walk. Like I, I took another walk yesterday, what am I going to learn? You know, like I did at that one point in my life when I was drinking too much, for example, drinking was having a glass of wine. So, so, so nice. It felt good.

And like there were moments in my life where that, that is. A pleasure. And then there are other moments in my [00:41:00] life where it's just immediate gratification. And it really felt not good to think about it beforehand and it didn't feel good to recall it. And so, you know, something like work that you have to do or eating that you have to do, like being aware of, am I having anticipatory anxiety about this?

Am I recalling it in a way that makes me feel proud, joyful, like myself? Or am I out of, sorts with all that stuff. That's how, you know, if you're in a space of living for immediate gratification and that hedonic wellness, or if you're focused on meaning, which is like, trust your pleasure, that is what gives you meaning. Meaning means that some event happened and I decide what it means to me, or I do this thing and I imbue that action with a meaning. And that's just about leading your life with intention.

Erin: And anything can be [00:42:00] that, right? Like anything. It isn't limited. And you can pursue anything hedonically or you can pursue things like, well, I'll give an example.

Like when I first got out of my marriage, I was just sleeping with a ton of guys. But it meant something to me that I was doing that, like it was a purposeful reclamation of myself, my body, my identity, my pleasure. And once it started to feel like I was just chasing the thrill, then it was like, okay, I think this is probably this phase is probably over.

But for a time it was very much about. The deeper parts of it was giving me depth and a renewed sense of myself and ability to practice boundaries and all these different things that, you know, as a perfectionist, I make it a project. Right?

Katherine: Yeah. And perfectionists don't have to worry about being hedonists because being a hedonist is antithetical to [00:43:00] perfectionism, right? Perfectionists are very bored with hedonism. As you're describing, you can only watch so much TV before you're like, What am I getting out of this or what am I, you know, doing this, doing that, whatever it expires, the expiration date is pretty quick.

Erin: That's good to hear because I do sort of criticize the hedonist in myself.

Katherine: Yeah. Well, that is the thing that makes perfectionism healthy or not that impulse in you. If you want to figure out if you're in a healthy place or an unhealthy place with your perfectionism, there are two guiding questions. And that is how am I striving and why am I striving? Right? So like how in, in your example of like liberating and healing yourself through being really sexual and open to dating men, um, or whomever, it's like, how am I doing this?

Am I doing it in a way that feels fun, sexy, safe for me? Then great. Like, right. Or Why am I doing this? Am I doing this because I [00:44:00] can't stand to sit in the pain of my divorce and I don't feel at tractive at all and I need other people's validation to make me feel like I am desirable as well as a woman?

Like, if the how and why Isn't lining up with your values. I mean, the book is about perfectionism, but it's ultimately about like, why are you seeking the thing that you want? Why do you want that? Is it true that you want that? Or is it that you want something that you think that thing will give you, that you think the degree will give you that you think the weight will give you that you think that money will give you, like, why do you want that?

Why are you striving? And then also how are you striving? Cause the why can be in the right place. But the how is like, if you're burning yourself out, if you're exploiting other people, if you're doing these things that are grading against your soul or values, like it's not gonna be [00:45:00] good. And you've got a course.

Erin: Right. The should is the clue, right? They're like, I should want this. I should do this. I should pursue this. That was a big part of the external is what I wanted my life to look like. I should pursue this corporate career because this is the thing that's going to get me to X, Y, Z.

And once I took that should out of the picture, I still have it obviously we don't change overnight, but it felt much more true to me. When I wanted something it was because I wanted something not because I felt like I was gonna check some box or be Approvable or look look look. Look I did this. I'm not I'm not a failure. I'm not a fuck up I'm not a whatever like whatever secret thing you think about yourself. Look at all these externals and this proves

Katherine: Right, right and it's like the best example that I use is like really looking good Uh huh. Right? Whatever [00:46:00] that means to you. Yeah. You can look good and really care about that in a healthy way. Because what you're doing is you're, you're feeling so good and like authentic on the inside that you want to animate that on the outside. That's right. If for no one but yourself, that's okay. And that's great in fact.

And then, and you can do the exact same behavior of trying to look really good because you feel like terrible on the inside. And you feel fragmented. And so you're like, I am already at a loss. And so I need to compensate for this by looking a certain way. So it's never what you're doing really that is making or breaking you. It's why you're doing it. Right. It's what's driving you. And how you're doing it. Yeah.

Erin: Yeah. So interesting.

I do want to touch on the five different types of perfectionist, because that was a revelation to me in your book that I always sort of thought of perfectionism as like a one thing, but you have a quiz on [00:47:00] your website, which everybody loves a quiz, thank you for that. I also was super frustrated with the results because I, because five isn't enough. Right. Like for me, I've got some classic, I've got some messy though that word is very upsetting to me. Don't like messy anything. So yeah, can you, can you run through those just on the most baseline level?

Katherine: So we don't understand this kaleidoscopic construct of perfectionism the way that the research world understands it and Is beginning to get it and we think of it as just a behavioral component to who we are of like I like all the pencils in a row but perfectionism can show up emotionally. I want to feel perfect I want to be just the right amount of turned on by someone but also able to focus on my own life and balance and not be like lost in the clouds.

And I want to also be rational and this [00:48:00] way and just so many pie charts that we operate with. So many fucking pie charts. I want to care about work this much, but also feel this much freedom in my personal life and be able to just like compartmentalize and close the door and not think about it out. You know, all this stuff.

So perfectionism can show up in your thoughts, in your emotions, in your interpersonal relationships, in all these kinds of ways. So the first type is the classic perfectionist. This is most close to the archetype that we think of all these have pros and cons, the pros, classic perfectionists do what they say they're going to do when they say they're going to do it in the way that they said they would do it. They're highly reliable. And, um, that's great.

The cons are, these are people who don't necessarily lean into collaboration, right? I want something done. Well, I'm going to do it myself. And that can lead to a kind of transactional nature in relationships where you feel like, you know, a lot of facts about that person, but you don't [00:49:00] really know them. And they can also feel taken for granted because it's like, Oh, well, she always makes the deck. She always plans the vacation. She's, she's happy doing that. And it's like, you might be happy doing that, but it's also still work. And we also want appreciation.

Procrastinator perfectionist wants the conditions to be perfect before they start. So the pros, these are people who are such thoughtful people. They can see everything from a 360 degree angle. They really prepare. No one's better prepared or has more information on something than a procrastinator perfectionist, but they struggle to execute and begin because they want the conditions to be perfect before they start, if they're not managing their perfectionism.

A messy perfectionist, the same issues as the procrastinator perfectionist, but at a different point in the process. So a messy perfectionist loves. Starting, right? These are the people who are [00:50:00] so energized by beginning a project. They in fact begin a million projects.

They start happy and not just with projects and work, but like, they love the first date. They love the second date. They love the third date. But then you Inevitably hit the tedium of the middle, the part where the perfection and the romanticizing and everything like gets real. You have to file your taxes or you have to file for the license with the state and, uh, and the person starts chewing really loudly or they do something.

Oh, the perfect falls apart. And then they struggle to maintain momentum and they end up, if they're not managing the perfectionism sort of like abandoning ship. And this creates really dangerous false narratives in the procrastinator and messy perfectionist of like, I can't get my stuff together. I must not care enough. This is easier for other people. I'm not disciplined enough. No one takes me seriously enough. All that stuff.

Then we have the intense perfectionist, which like this perfectionist is [00:51:00] focused on the last stage, the outcome. So they could start, they can continue, and they want to get to the end and they want to do that by any means necessary if they're not managing their perfectionism. So on the pros razor sharp focus, right on the cons, they will execute that focus to their own demise. They don't take care of their wellbeing and sometimes exploit people around them, thinking that the ends justify the means and they often do not. Right?

Lastly, the Parisian perfectionist is really interesting 'cause this is the kind of perfectionism that plays out in relationships. So this is about perfectly wanting to be liked, be loved, be understood to also perfectly like others, and understand others, to have a perfect relationship with yourself, where you love your body and you love yourself and you're to have a perfect, you know, relationship with God. It's about perfectionism in relationships.

[00:52:00] Um, and the pros of this type are that like, you don't have to explain to a Parisian perfectionist how powerful healthy relationships are. They just know. An intense perfectionist, you have to be like, look, if your whole team like is disconnected, they're all going to quit. You have to like explain that because it doesn't seem like, yeah, it's a blind spot. We all have blind spots. Parisian perfection is just like, you don't have to explain any of that. They just get it. The problem is they sometimes want this connection so much that they take shortcuts to the connection. So this looks like toxic people pleasing and really an abandoning of self to try to get what they want, which is like connection.

Erin: Mm. I love it. Thank you. That was like the speed round and I really appreciate it.

I want to read a quick quote from your book that literally had me in the car being like, yes, yes, like a fucking crazy person, because I have [00:53:00] never, I really have never heard perfectionism described this way, but you say:

"Boldness, authenticity, an endless drive.You don't even have to try to cultivate the confidence to fail, learn and grow as you saturate your life with more and more meaning and improve yourself and the world around you. That's perfectionism. You can resist perfectionism or you can embrace it."

That is the most positive, empowering interpretation of this character trait that so many of us have criticized ourselves for or been criticized for. And I just really appreciate the depth of that definition and the positivity of it because I really saw myself so clearly in that.

Katherine: Well, thanks for reading that. Yeah. And I think it goes back to what we were talking about at the top of. The conversation, which is if you take something that is a power like love and you look at it in [00:54:00] its most dangerous iteration, right? Like a toxic relationship or an abusive relationship, even it's very easy to say, like, love is bad. It hurts people. It does this. It does that. But it's like, that's how I view perfectionism.

I'm like, all that stuff is true. And you have got to put boundaries around. The love that you express and receive, but that's not even 10 percent of the story of like, what love is right?

And it's a habit of our culture that we look at everything through a lens of pathology. That's how the mental health system works. We don't ask what's going right? We operate from a disease model an illness model, which is based on efficiency and speed So we want to know like what's going wrong so that we can treat it as quickly as possible.

That's why we don't focus on preventative measures, we go to the doctor when we feel sick. Not and like once a year [00:55:00] to make sure we're not sick. We don't go to the doctor to make sure that we're well or to do, you know---

Erin: Or to increase our wellness, right?

Katherine: Yes. Thank you. Yeah. Yeah. And so the mental health operates the same way. So it's like we've been looking at perfectionism through the lens of pathology, but there's so many other ways to look at it. So many other ways and I love the energy of the perfectionist.

I think that's why I gravitate towards perfectionists so much. It's a really beautiful, wonderful quality that does need to be harnessed.

Erin: It does. So I've asked everyone on this podcast one question and I will ask it to you, which is, are there any deal terms in your own life, any agreements that you are now ready to renegotiate? Is there anything that you feel you want to change? In terms of how you've aligned yourself with the rest of the world. [00:56:00]

Katherine: It's such a great question. I think that what I've realized in the last two years, in doing a lot of work in my relationship with my partner is that honesty is what I value most. It is the deepest currency of intimacy to me. And that's what we really extol and celebrate in our relationship and the other stuff that used to in my twenties and thirties be reflective of the currency of intimacy are just not that anymore.

Like, for example, Going on vacations together. It's okay if we do those things apart. What's not okay is if we can't come into our own home and feel totally honest and free to be who we are And just like really being clear about what those values are has helped [00:57:00] strengthen our sense of self in the relationship, which I think makes for such a better relationship, you know?

And so our intention of our partnership is to love each other such that we both feel free to be ourselves in the world. And that we are at once each other's soft place to land and also springboard. And that's also how we want to love our daughter. And so whatever that looks like. That stuff needs to be intact if the other stuff that's sort of more traditional metrics of successful or not successful relationships, we don't really care about.

Erin: I love that. I love that. I also love that. I mean, it makes sense to me, given the work that you do, that you have a marriage where, um, or a partnership where intention is clear. And stated and something that you can refer back to where you go, wait, remember this was, this is what we said. Um, that's huge, I don't know that a lot of relationships have that. [00:58:00]

Katherine: You know, whenever I'm like, I need to have a talk about something with my husband, I'm like, we're going to talk about intention today. I'm like, you know who you married, but he's also, I will say this. He's also really kind and and you can't really teach someone to be kind.

You can teach someone to consider other people's feelings and anticipate needs, but like that real kindness like that's when that's there there's just a level of safety for me where I can just feel at home. Snd I got to that place by being with a lot of people who are so many extraordinary things, but not kind. Kindness was not always at the top of the list. They were kind sometimes, which kind of doesn't count, you know what I mean?

Erin: No, yeah, I get that. I get that. Latherine, I've loved this conversation. Obviously, I've been feeling it the whole time, and I'm just grateful for the work that you have done and that you've put out into the world. Thank you. [00:59:00]

Katherine: Well, thank you. Thank you for being present with me and giving me this chance to talk about my work on your very hard one platform. I really appreciate the opportunity.

Erin: Everybody go get this book. I'm going to put all the details in the show notes.

Thanks for listening to Hotter Than Ever. If you enjoyed this episode, please rate and review the show on Apple podcasts. When you write a glowing five star review, that tells the Apple algorithm and the human people who run the Apple podcast app that they should recommend the show and rank it higher in their listings. It's that simple. You tell Apple and they tell the world. Thank you as always for your support.

Hotter Than Ever is produced by Erica Girard and PodKit Productions. Our associate producer is Melody Carey. Music is by Chris Keating with vocals by Issa Fernandes.

Come back next week, hotties, and we'll be right here with more juicy stuff all for you.[01:00:00]


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