The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of Perfectionism

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Creative success coach, Photographer, rescue dog mom, book worm, INFJ, Enneagram 3, doing my best to be mindful, kind & help people be their most authentic, purposeful selves.


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“Anything less than the best is a felony.” – Vanilla Ice

I’m a militant perfectionist and walking, talking, quality obsessed proof that influential (and sometimes limiting) beliefs are formed by the messages one receives from authority figures* as a child. My problem began when, aged 9, I spent an afternoon learning the lyrics to “Ice, Ice, Baby” by heart, and clearly took the aforementioned line to heart too.

My modus operandi ever since that fateful day in 1990 has been to strive for perfection in all my professional and work related endeavours so as to avoid jail time. It probably goes without saying that, as personality types go, I’m Type A and if you’re into the Enneagram, I’m a 3 (the Achiever). All thanks to a one-hit-wonder pop star.

Alright, stop, collaborate and listen. Let’s unpack perfection-ism. (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself).

The good

Striving for top marks, excellence and going the extra mile puts you in a minority. It might be tough at the top, but it’s not crowded, most people’s best stops at ‘just enough’. As a perfectionist, you’re going to deliver your absolute utmost at work, whatever you do, and you’ll likely be rewarded for it. I’ve achieved great success in my businesses, not because I’m the best in the industry at what I do (no one likes an arrogant perfectionist), but because I make sure I give my clients an excellent experience when they work with me and it continues to pay off with repeat business and referrals. When perfectionism is channelled into great customer service and attention to detail where it matters and will make a difference, it’s a winning quality to embody.

The bad

Thanks to consistently working on one-upping myself like it’s a competitive sport, I have successfully burnt myself out twice and landed up in hospital in 2016 with nervous exhaustion. The other thing Type A people have in common with their touch of perfectionism, is a touch of workaholism; not a great combo. Perfectionism becomes a problem when it interferes with your health and your personal life, which it very often does. The point at which you’re putting your work and need to be ahead of the pack before your own wellbeing and the quality of your relationships is when it’s time to pull up the ‘fear of doing time’ handbrake. It’s entirely possible to be a perfectionist in negative emotional states such as loneliness and isolation as well as positive ones. I know what I’d prefer.

The ugly

Perfectionism might be great for your clients, but it’s not necessarily great for your service providers, employees or loved ones. It’s hard to live up to exacting standards and what, to a person who doesn’t view delivering less than 100% as a prosecutable offence, can seem like unrealistic expectations (just ask my husband). So you have to learn to accept some things as they are and ease up on the negativity bias when deliverables aren’t quite as brilliant as you’d have made them. Easier said than done and the disappointment that ensues when expectations aren’t met is something I’ve grappled with often. But, as I said at the start of this, not everyone’s best is the same and the growth edge as a perfectionist is to learn to accept some things as they are and not fight with the frustration of what you think they should be.

Will it ever stop?

I hope not. Perfectionists make the world a better place. But, there’s a balance to be found in only going an extra few feet into ‘just enough’ territory and going an extra ten miles into the stratosphere where no one notices how hard you’ve worked except you. When I find that happy medium, I’ll let you know.

*I’m not sure Vanilla Ice should count as an authority figure, but my 9 year old self loved him, I even went to see him perform live……

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