Are Your Perfectionistic Tendencies Helping or Hurting?

I’ve heard this a lot recently, typically from those in hospitality / customer service positions as a response to receiving information:

“And what are the last four digits of your card?”

I get the point – that I’ve given an answer that allows us to move forward with whatever the purpose of the call is – but it seems weird to use this as a descriptor for answers like this.

Really, it just shows how much perfection is emphasized in our everyday lives and how much we like it when things seem perfect. When heard in everyday conversations like this, it almost seems normalized.

But how often does “perfect” really happen? Is it all that common and normal like society leads us to believe? And is it something to strive for?

According to a vast number of sources and contrary to what we see and hear frequently, perfectionism isn’t doing you any favors. In fact, there’s a good chance it’s holding you back.

The following observations have been made about perfectionism and those who seek it:

-Perfectionism is widely linked with depression.

-Perfectionists are consumed with the possibility of loss, and therefore are often disingenuous.

-Perfectionists are not willing to take responsibility for loss and therefore do not take risks, which leads to stagnation and mediocrity.

-Perfectionists typically focus on end results, yet when one focuses on the end result of doing something while doing it, focus is not given to what happens in the present moment.

-Perfectionists tend to dwell in the past or future, thinking about what they should have done to make something better or what they hope they will do to make something better, which robs them of relevant time.

-Perfectionists usually do not consider the fact that “perfect” is a rare occasion.

-Perfectionists do not consider that a perfect, idealistic performance is a fantasy.

-Perfectionism is often linked to anxiety.

If you have a tendency to look for perfectionism, perhaps some of these resonate with you. As a “recovering perfectionist,” I know I certainly used to experience them. The possibility of being wrong made me anxious. I hated making mistakes in front of other people. I would become emotional and irrationally defensive. My larynx would crawl up toward my eyeballs…

I can’t describe in words how good it feels to be free from those kinds of feelings and reactions. I abandoned them years ago, favoring excellence over something so elusive, choosing instead to resonate with this quote by psychologist and stress management expert Harriet Braiker:

“Striving for excellence motivates you. Striving for perfectionism demoralizes you.”


When we strive for perfection and come up short, it’s always a loss. Constant loss is exhausting. It’s easy to feel worn out, and quite frankly who is interested in always losing? It doesn’t feel good.

Striving for excellence gives us something to move toward. It’s not an arrival point, it’s a state of being. You can fail and be excellent. If your goal is to be perfect, failing isn’t an option. I can’t name one single highly successful entrepreneur who hasn’t talked about failing multiple times.

Not to mention that trying to make something perfect oftentimes removes the enjoyment out of the process. And since creative work is really something like 95% process, things go south fairly quickly if the process part is a drag.

So if you’re looking for success, make sure the fairly ironic desire to be perfect isn’t standing in your way. It’s a hard habit to break, but from experience I’ll say it’s one worth breaking. Life’s too short to live in fear of mistakes, especially when it’s the willingness to make those mistakes that could get you on the fast track to success.

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