Perfectionism on the surface doesn’t really sound like such a bad thing, does it? After all, why shouldn’t we want to do an exceptional job? Why shouldn’t we want to do our work perfectly?
Unfortunately, in practice, perfectionism is a whole lot more toxic than the simple pursuit of excellence.
Missed deadlines. Mounting stress and irritability leading inevitably to burnout. Dissatisfaction with a career that once sparked endless passion.
All tied together by a crushing, pervasive sense that you don’t belong where you are, that your professional successes are all somehow fraudulent.
This is the face of perfectionism that we don’t see. The dark side of one’s desire for excellence and improvement. The pursuit of perfection at all costs and at any expense, to the point of sabotaging your own work.
Let’s talk about a few ways this self-sabotage tends to manifest, and what you can do about it.
It’s Making You Likelier to Procrastinate
When you’re a perfectionist, the thought of doing any task you know won’t receive your absolute best leads to a form of paralysis. You simply can’t seem to motivate yourself to work on the things you need to get done. As the work piles up, you grow increasingly overwhelmed, increasingly desperate, and increasingly stressed out.
And for some reason, you still can’t motivate yourself to start working. Because you already know you can’t do the job right. Or at least, you can’t do it right according to your standards.
So you don’t bother doing it at all. And as you sit there staring at your ever-growing task list, the deadlines speed past. And all the while, your inner critic is screaming at you.
As you may have surmised from the above point, perfectionism is extremely draining. No one is perfect all the time, and no one is capable of always firing on all cylinders. It’s great to aspire to always do one’s best, but you need to understand that you’re only human.
You’re going to have off days. You’re going to have times when you’re too tired or too stressed to give it your best. You’re going to have projects which, while you might finish them to the satisfaction of others, you won’t be able to finish them to your standards.
And here’s where your perfectionism gets actively harmful. You’re never satisfied with your work, and you’re constantly pushing yourself to your limits and beyond in a vain effort to be better. That is not sustainable, and it will inevitably lead to burnout, especially with how stressful the rest of 2020 has been thus far.
It Can Kill Both Flexibility and Creativity
At the core of perfectionism is an ingrained fear of doing something wrong. The constant worry that your efforts simply aren’t going to be good enough. Unfortunately, whether you want it to or not, having that background radiation in your mind does have an impact.
It can, in some cases, make you less likely to try new things. Less willing to get creative with your work. Or simply cause you to enter a sort of stress spiral wherein you constantly submit work that you feel is sub-par because you’re creatively stagnant, yet you lack both the energy and the will to fix it.
How To Overcome Your Perfectionism
Overcoming perfectionism is all about perspective.
The first thing you need to do is to understand that no one is perfect. You are pursuing an impossible ideal, a standard no one is capable of meeting. From there, ask yourself one thing about your work.
Are your clients and colleagues happy with it? Are you receiving praise for it? If you’re a contractor, do people keep coming to you with additional work?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, that means that, from the perspective of everyone else, your work is already perfect — or at least near enough to perfection for it to count.
Finally, when starting on a new project, you shouldn’t be trying to make it flawless on your first run. Settle for on time and just good enough. You can always refine a project after you’ve finished it, but you can’t turn back time if you submit something late.
There’s nothing wrong with trying to improve or pursuing excellence. It’s where you let that paralyze and drain you that you encounter problems. At the end of the day, try channeling your perfectionism into self-improvement, and don’t let it control you.
Because you’re better than that.