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Let Go Of Perfection

It is human nature to want to be good at what we do and to have our efforts recognised by others.  It makes us feel worthwhile, valued and it leaves us with a proud sense of achievement. But if you feel like you have to do things perfectly and that near enough is absolutely not good enough, then you may be afflicted by the curse of perfectionism.

Striving for perfection is a recipe for failure.  Perfection quite simply can not be attained!  Not at work, not in our relationships, not in our home. 


At work, perfectionists are obsessed with producing their best
, often setting unattainable goals.  They take longer than most to get their work done while they focus on the tiny details and burying themselves in their quest for getting things right.  As a leader they tend to be unreasonably demanding.  They will often micromanage their team; unable to let go for fear of less than perfect outcomes. 

For all their diligence, perfectionists also tend to procrastinate.  They are fearful of not getting things right so avoid getting started.  They struggle to get their work finished given the high, unachievable standards they have set.

And the genuine support coming from both senior men and women from within organisations is increasingly positive.

Perfectionism goes way beyond being a high achiever.  High achievers tend to be pulled toward their goals by a desire to achieve, they enjoy pursuing the goal and are satisfied with something close to excellence, while perfectionists are driven to act out of fear of not reaching their goals and see anything less than perfect as a failure.

The need for perfection most likely stems from interactions with our parents, teachers and peers in our childhood.  Being praised for high grades at school, encouraged to do better and try our hardest or chastised for a slip in results.  It is not the comments themselves, but the interpretation of these interactions through the eyes of a child, that leads to perfectionistic habits and behaviours as an adult.

Many have a love hate relationship with their need to be perfect.  It fuels and drives them to achieve but backfires when they become overly critical of themselves and of others.  It can get them into trouble when they become so lost in the detail they fail to move forward at the pace required in todays workplace. 

Are you a perfectionist at work?  Do any of these resonate with you?

  • It takes you much longer than others to complete reports
  • You agonise over the phrasing in an email
  • You feel overwhelmed about getting started on a new project
  • You miss deadlines, preferring to wait until your work is 100% on the mark
  • You are constantly burning the midnight oil trying to stay on top of things, often missing out on family and personal time
  • You stew for days or even weeks over errors in your work
  • You get stuck in one task, trying to get it perfect and never moving to the next task

The cost of your perfectionism can be a reputation for being slow or unreliable. In todays fast paced work environment, highly productive people who get the job done in a quick timeframe, are who employers will think of for promotion or exciting projects.

But sometimes the biggest cost…. is the cost to health.  Research has shown that perfectionists are more prone to suffer from anxiety, stress and persistent fatigue.  Perfectionists tend to fear not being able to live up to their own standards or beat themselves up and wallow in negative feelings when their high expectations are not met.

So do you see yourself in any of these scenarios?

Here are 3 Steps To Overcoming Your Habit of Perfection

1.  Recognise what your perfectionism is costing you.  Pain is a great motivator!  Identify what your perfectionist ways are costing you in terms of your career progress, your health, fun time with your family.

2.  Prioritise your most important tasks.  You most likely bring your perfection strategies to every area of you work.  In some areas of your work, your diligence and pursuit for excellence is a strength (eg: completing budgets, drafting board reports etc) while in other areas (emails to colleagues, weekly meeting agendas etc) your need for 100% is slowing you down, holding you back and quite possibly stressing you out.

Pick the top 5 tasks where your focus on detail is critical and allow yourself to pursue excellence in these priority areas.  For the rest, turn back the dial to 80 – 90%.  You may be surprised by how few people notice any difference in your effort.

3.  Set realistic Goals. “Good enough” is a term that strikes fear in most perfectionists but is a goal worth pursuing….. why? Because you are more likely to get the job done and on time! A reputation of poor productivity and failing to get work finished on time is a massive stumbling block for career progression.

Striving for high standards, of course can be beneficial.  But at some point it becomes debilitating and self-defeating.  You may feel a sense of control when you are doing things absolutely perfectly… while in fact your perfectionist ways are controlling you.  Letting go of these long held habits may take time but you will find it is well worth the effort.

Start today, by acknowledging what your perfectionist ways are costing you.

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