Can You Be Too Perfect?

Having looked at fear of failure and success I want to now look at how being a perfectionist can stop you from achieving what you want.

Let’s start by understanding what perfectionism is not. Perfectionism is not the admirable quality of holding yourself to high standards. Rather, perfectionism is the fusion of high standards with your self-worth. A less-than-perfect performance damages a perfectionist’s self-worth in their opinion. The possibility that their performance will not be flawless is debilitating to them, and they can become paralyzed by the idea of doing something.

A perfectionist believes that they can never be good enough. They consider any mistake they make to be an indication of their value as a person and therefore no mistake is permissible. They seek to avoid shame and judgment by being perfect.

Successful professionals are typically not perfectionists, although they may be people who hold themselves and others to high standards. The hesitation and over-analysis that is common to perfectionists does not help them to advance in a profession.

What Perfectionism Looks Like

Perfectionists are often chronic procrastinators. They spend so much time preparing for a task that they never get to the task. The anxiety surrounding their fear of making a mistake is disempowering, so they often feel unable to proceed with their work.

Perfectionists may be aware that their perfectionism is a disadvantage to them, but they consider it the price they have to pay to be successful. Perfectionists hold others to high standards, too, and can be very critical of them. But even though they are quick to criticize, they have a hard time accepting criticism, which can stop them from moving on with their work.

Perfectionism is a big de-motivator. Perfectionists can be reluctant to try new things because they are afraid that they won’t be able to live up to their own standards when they do it. And, if they do try something new, they will often abandon it quickly. The mistakes that anyone is bound to make when learning a skill are so painful to perfectionists that they will quit before they gain mastery. As a consequence, they never enjoy practicing the skill, be it speaking a language, playing an instrument, or participating in a sport.

Because perfectionists are so risk-averse, they rarely are able to innovate or be creative. They have all-or-nothing thinking, and won’t do anything if they can’t devote themselves to it totally. They are often hiding the fact that they are imposters.

How to Overcome Perfectionism

Many of the ways of overcoming perfectionism have to do with recognizing that it is a hindrance, not a help, in achieving your goals. If your goal is to do an excellent job in a presentation for work, being obsessed with every little detail stands in your way rather than helping you.

If you are overwrought over things that are out of your control, you aren’t completing things that are in your control. If you are focused on past errors, you aren’t working on tasks that can actually move you toward your goals. So step back, look at the big picture, and put perfectionism in its place.

Another approach to overcoming perfectionism is to heal the parts of you that causes it. Perfectionists are weak on self-acceptance and self-compassion. To overcome perfectionism, learn to love yourself in all your imperfect glory. Honor the work that you do, even if it is less than perfect.

Honour your commitment to high standards, but don’t let your failure to meet them make you feel unworthy.  Treat mistakes as lessons you can learn from. Let go of the personal hurt you feel over them. Be analytical about them, freeing yourself from the impact they have over your feelings of self-worth. Enjoy your successes and victories. Celebrate them. Let your successes, not your errors, define you to yourself.