“If a job is worth doing it’s worth doing well.” There are probably some things that we would strive do perfectly in our jobs and where we would expect to be measured by our lack of errors and the consistency of our action. We also all depend on others doing what they are employed to do perfectly with a high degree of control and attention to detail. For example, a flight controllers judgment about whether planes should land or take off and on which runway is pretty important to those of us who fly.
It is also the case that many of us in answering the interview question concerning any faults we might have, would respond that “I am a bit of a perfectionist’’. Again, this is often perceived as a positive by recruitment panels until they employ someone in a management role who is so perfectionistic that they set a bar that none of their subordinates can ever reach. This creates an environment of stress that causes people to avoid taking initiative and to just toe the line.
In a recent article, Julia Naftulin, describes five ways that perfectionism may be holding you back. Naftulin bases much of her article on research published by Patricia Di Bartolo PhD, a professor of clinical psychology at Smith College. You might want to consider whether any of these are a problem for you.
- You set standards at such a high level that you are never satisfied with what you have achieved and continue to overwork what you are doing thus missing deadlines and never achieving a result. For many people this becomes so severe that they begin to procrastinate doing anything because they are fearful of not being able to produce a satisfactory result. This can involve a myriad of situations including applying for jobs, to dating, planning an holiday or completing an academic assignment.
- Perfectionism makes many people anxious in social situations or where they feel noticed. Their fear of being criticised and not meeting other people’s expectations becomes so concerning that their anxiety levels skyrocket. This can then have a follow on effect where they begin to limit their life by not engaging in new situations or where they find themselves cancelling social or work engagements that they might have enjoyed or profited from.
- Avoidance of engaging in new activities. The problem is that if a perfectionist has any doubt about how good they will be at something or how well they will fit in they will usually decide to ‘’play it safe’’ and not take the risk of failing. This can then become more of a social problem as they make excuses not to do new or novel things with friends or colleagues and then worry about what others think about their unwillingness to do things with them. Giving yourself permission to find out whether you like something and then accepting that there may be a learning curve before you are totally able to be involved is something that this group of perfectionists finds hugely challenging.
- Perfectionistic behaviour can affect people’s ability to attract and sustain relationships. Their need to be right is so strong that anything less causes them to fall into a heap of inadequacy. This means that they are often intolerant of other points of view, on the defensive and are often perceived by others and sometimes admit to being control junkies. At its extreme they will also avoid sharing opinions or allowing people to get to know them as they are afraid of being perceived as inadequate.
- Finally some perfectionists display an inability to disclose information or to seek assistance when they do not have an answer to a problem or concern that they might be experiencing. The understanding that everyone makes mistakes and that it is an opportunity to learn from others and to increase their capacity is secondary to their sense of vulnerability and their fear of how others might respond if their flaws were exposed.
People who tend to be both more successful and happy in their life know the difference between what is critical to get right and what might be fun and rewarding even if they are never the best at it. If you find yourself procrastinating, avoiding or limiting social engagement, anxious and uncomfortable in new situations, unable to attract or sustain work or personal relationships or unable to share your mistakes or problems and seek assistance you may be suffering from a case of perfectionism gone wild. Depending on how serious this is and how much stress/anxiety it may be creating for you might want to consider getting some professional psychological assistance.
Finally, the challenge is to not base your enjoyment on needing to be the best and allowing yourself to discover new ways of appropriating time so that your life can be richer and more fulfilling.