When I was young, I was a competitive and scholastic student. My goal was to get an A in every class, both in high school and college. I’d drop a class if it looked as though I wouldn’t get an A. In the end, it was my statistics grade that took me down a notch and taught me there’s no such thing as perfection.
Thanks to a class in statistics, I did not graduate with a 4.0-grade average. However, for years I still pursued my quest for perfection, only by then, it had spilled into other areas of my life. The perfect hostess, impeccable dresser, superb cook, successful professional, excellent—well, you get the idea.
In the continual pursuit of perfection, I set high goals and beat myself up when I failed to meet the mark. The verbal attacks I’ve unleashed upon myself would be categorized as emotional abuse if they were inflicted by a parent!
Perfectionists can be counted on to get a job done and on time. They have an incredible work ethic and have what it takes to perform so they approach challenges with gusto. If left unchecked, however, a perfectionist can produce toxic behavior and negative messages in their relentless pursuit of excellence.
Leaders and entrepreneurs strive to achieve excellence for many reasons. Perfection is seductive because it hints at the promised land; however, it’s more about the ideal than the real when leaders let it sabotage their business and life.
The good news is that with the right mindset, there are ways we can leverage our perfectionist tendencies to produce a healthy and balanced approach to business and life. Here’s how to be an awesome perfectionist:
1. Strive For Competency In One Or Two Areas
Never confuse perfection with competency. No one expects you to be perfect; they do expect you to be competent. When you lead from a place of competence, you lead from a place of strength.
If you’re a perfectionist, you drive yourself to excel but here is how you can be awesome instead of driven—choose a few areas in which you need to excel and hone your talents there.
It’s hard for a perfectionist to be content with less than ideal because you’re unfamiliar with a term that others find quite acceptable—and it’s called good enough. As a perfectionist, you have an all-or-nothing approach to everything. To be an awesome perfectionist, you need to balance the pursuit of perfection in all things with the need to excel in the fewer, more important things.
How To Make It Work For You: Remember you don’t need to be perfect in everything you do in life. Choose tasks that are worth the effort and put your perfectionist traits to work on them—and then go for it! Over time those tasks may shift so you’ll need to re-evaluate where you are in business and life on a regular basis.
2. Discover That Rest Is Not A Four-Letter Word
Downtime and rest are seldom experienced by perfectionists because they always seek to improve their situation. As a result, they often forfeit rest and view it as a four-letter word. By their very nature, perfectionists want each day to be productive because they don’t want to be seen as lazy. To them, lazy is another four-letter word.
When you allow yourself to take time off, you shed the stress that you put on yourself to always perform. In a study by the Journal of Health Psychology, 450 participants were followed over a period of 6.5 years. Consistent with their hypothesis, the findings demonstrated that the risk of death was significantly greater for high scorers in perfectionism.
How To Make It Work For You: Set aside time to play and explore. For many, self-care is a low priority. So are strong relationships because they require important time away from the relentless pursuit of perfection. To be an awesome perfectionist, use a time of rest to 1) revisit your values and 2) reflect on how you can nurture the relationships that are important to you. Most important—take the time to celebrate your successes!
3. Share Your Awesome Work Ethic With Others
In other words, delegate. This is hard for perfectionists because it means the end product may not turn out the way you want but two things happen: First, the work will get done and it won’t be the disaster that you’ve anticipated. Second, you place yourself in a situation where you can share your work standard with others.
Over time, your tendency to intervene will lessen but it’s important that you don’t hover over the other person and point out their mistakes.
How To Make It Work For You: To be an awesome perfectionist, let others observe how you excel at the critical aspects of your job but settle into a good enough attitude at the less important ones (you’ve implemented tip #1, right?). When you give others the opportunity to perform, it shows that you trust them and that you think they’re capable.
4. Change The Way You Talk To Yourself
The need for perfection is deeply embedded in a personality type that feels compelled to keep moving toward goals with a high level of integrity. Some are trained to believe perfection will take them to a high level of success. Still, others try to quiet a strong inner critic.
Our personalities develop in childhood and often it’s productive to get at the root of why and when we think the way we do.
How To Make It Work For You: You can be an awesome perfectionist if you understand the need behind your desire to excel. Ask yourself these questions:
- Is my need for perfection driven by my need for others to love me?
- Or do I perform so that others will see me as a success?
- Is it important that others see that I know the right way to do things?
- Do I want to beat others because I want to be a leader?
- Or because I’ve done the research and know how things need to work?
There is no right or wrong answer to these questions but the answers can give you a better understanding of your motives. Once you understand your motivation, you can choose how to respond to a situation rather than let your emotions react in ways that can sabotage you. The more self-knowledge you have, the more control you have over your behavior.
5. Take A Break From Social Media
Sage Journal recently conducted a large study on perfectionism and found that it has increased substantially over the past 25 years and that it affects both men and women in equal part.
Much of the blame is placed on social media posts that project unrealistic perfect lives through glossy advertisements and unattainable standards of perfection. While men are also affected, social media is filled with unrealistic media images of young women that have negatively impacted body image.
How To Make It Work For You: To be an awesome perfectionist, you need to let go of the fantasy. Slick advertising has been around for decades but it’s become more pervasive and more extreme. Perfectionists are smart and they know what works for them, so take some time to rest (remember tip #2?) and jettison social media at regular intervals. It’s a great way to keep sane from the noise of the rest of the world.
© 2019 LaRae Quy. All rights reserved.
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Right from the title, you had me. Who doesn’t want to be an awesome perfectionist? I could also relate – it was that one class in college, the one that almost everyone dropped except for me. I missed cum laude by a 100th of a point.
The two things I’ve done lately are to not beat myself up if I miss a week blogging and to step away from social media on a regular basis. Neither one feels easy but when I do it, I’m happier for it.
Fantastic post LaRae! As always you are so on target in sharing ways for all of us to grow. Perfectionism is nuts but drives so many of us. I have a philosophy that to really experience new things I have to not worry about being perfect in learning them. Making mistakes in part of our professional growth and that means steering away from being perfect. By the way, no one is or ever will be perfect.
Great post! I often find my best insights come when I’m taking a break that I don’t feel I have time for. In the end, ironically those breaks can save time.
Frequently, perfectionists get a bad wrap. They are seen as wrong, because of the harsh self-criticism that prevails. It was interesting reading a perfectionist’s take on the positives of this phenomenon.
Are we asking students and people to “Not be themselves” when we (I) try to get them to lighten up and stop being so perfectionistic? Is that a word? Perhaps, I should be more open-minded to providing tools and help for students who just ARE perfectionists. They can’t help but work to that level.
Thanks for getting me thinking. Perfectionism is sometimes seen as a weakness. It is great to read about its strengths.