Perfectionism: The Silent Killer of Achievement

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

More business professionals than you might suspect suffer from “perfectionism.” It’s not that uncommon. Even Steve Jobs has been repeatedly lauded for demanding perfection from his employees and company. However, there’s a difference between striving for the best and being paralyzed by perfectionism.

In an article called The Dark Side of Perfectionism Revealed, Livescience examined the problems that perfectionists can experience in their personal and professional lives. They catalog the perfectionist tendencies in three categories:

Self-oriented perfectionism, in which individuals impose high standards on themselves

This manifests itself in several ways. First, people who are perfectionists often have a hard time starting projects because they’re afraid of failing before they even begin. In addition, because of unrealistic expectations on themselves, they may undervalue their own work—delaying finishing or turning in projects because they’re “not right yet.”

Socially prescribed perfectionism, where individuals feel others expect them to be perfect

This is often displayed as an inability to ask for help. It’s not unreasonable to assume that any task may call for a subject matter expert or someone with more experience. People with perfectionist tendencies sometimes avoid calling on additional resources because they think it will be perceived as a weakness.

Other-oriented, in which individuals place high standards on others

Other-oriented perfectionism can waste time and energy in an organization. Perfectionists can have a tendency to over-analyze, to question every data point, and to re-think decisions. A failure to “let go” of control can create bottlenecks and hurt morale.

If you see these tendencies in your work or personal habits, there are ways you can still be a high achiever–even as you advance your career.

You should work on ranking the importance of each task or decision. Will the success or failure of this project be temporary or permanent? How hard will it be to recover from a mistake? Often, it’s more important to have some forward movement on your projects or decisions because the cost of backtracking and fixing is less than the cost of delaying.

Elizabeth Gilbert discusses this in a fascinating TED Talk that’s hosted on YouTube. She specifically talks about the way that perfectionism can “kill creativity.” She credits her mother with teaching her that “Done is better than good.”

Perfectionism has the potential to derail your career and delay advancement. It can even interrupt your personal aspirations. If any of this sounds familiar to you, you may want to investigate and read more on the topic so you can lead a happier and more productive work and life.


photo credit: fs999 via photopin cc

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