The downside to perfectionism and how to avoid it.

Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimise the painful feelings of blame, judgement, and shame.  Brené Brown

You only need to take a glance at social media to see how we aim for constant perfection. Perfect homes, kids, careers, and the list goes on and on. Do people actually hold themselves up to this high level? Yes, they do, but in reality, it is hard to maintain and, as Brené succinctly puts it, self-destructive.

I was chatting to one of my clients today who openly admitted to her yearning for perfectionism and how that is a motivator for her. She prides herself on her high level of perfectionism and wants nothing less than to be the best she can be at everything. While we may take our hats off to people constantly aiming and often attaining perfection, again, as Brené Brown says, “When perfectionism is driving us, shame is always riding shotgun and fear is the backseat driver.”

Not sure how to tell if you are a perfectionist? Here are some tell-tale signs:

  • You have higher expectations of yourself than you would ask of others.
  • You focus more on failure than success.
  • You are a workaholic (and if you don’t think so, ask your friends).
  • You struggle to manage stress related to high expectations.
  • You are critical of what you do.
  • You often take feedback as criticism.
  • 90% isn’t good enough.

Being a perfectionist can be problematic in the workplace, particularly when it comes from a top-level executive or a leader, and it is important to look at what is behind this need to attain perfectionism often.

What drives your perfectionism?

Think about these questions:

  • What might you be avoiding?
  • Are there triggers that set you off in the search for perfectionism?
  • If you are currently stuck in a cycle of perfectionism, how can you push through?
  • What will happen if you only hit “great” rather than “excellent” on the chart?
  • Is it life or death if you fail to miss the mark, even by a little?
  • Would it really negatively impact your life if you failed to meet your high standards?
  • Would it be more beneficial to your mental health if you settled for slightly less?
  • When is done better than perfect?

Perfectionism and fear go hand in hand, as do procrastination and worry. Where there is one, the others are not far behind. Think about what your next task is. Is there a point where you can show it to your colleague for a fair and unbiased view before you begin to worry and stress about it? Perhaps that will shave hours off your schedule and give you a break to relax a little. It’s certainly worth considering.

Tackling self-doubt can be a momentous task. Your self-worth is about more than reaching those impossibly high standards you set for yourself. Perfectionism can be the death of any good project, even before it hits the ground.

A way to manage the drive for perfection.

Think up a mantra that will resonate with you. Here are some examples to help you come up with your own:

  • Completion is more important than perfection.
  • My worth is more than the sum of my achievements.
  • I will be kind when I make a mistake.
  • There’s more than one right way to do something.
  • I am doing my best, and that is good enough.

If you are a self-confessed perfectionist, then chances are it is causing some issues for you in the workplace. This is magnified if you are a people leader. Your team are watching your unachievable high standards in action which can be exhausting for them to constantly strive for. Focus on your expectations of both yourself and others, and let ‘good enough’ work at the next opportunity. Try not to compare yourself with others unnecessarily. Those who appear to be perfect are, in all likelihood, a) not perfect, and b) battling their own issues as well.

Of course, a little bit of perfectionism is okay as it will enable the whole team to improve their skills and knowledge. However, when it errs on the negative, creating feelings of unhappiness or stress and eventually impacting performances and productivity, then you know it is time to readdress. High expectations drive performance; excessive expectations ultimately kill performance. Moving forward, just be mindful when those perfectionist ideals raise their head and remember those mantras. Your career is about productivity and progress, eventually leaving perfection for dust.

Skip to content