Why perfectionism is NOT a good thing
Perfectionism is defined as the need to be — or appear to be — perfect at all times. Growing up, I believed that being a perfectionist was a good thing, even a strength of mine.
But, I was wrong.
What I’ve learnt as I’ve grown up is that perfectionism is actually rooted in fear and insecurity. It’s anything but a strength and it’s more likely to hold us back than to move us forward.
Even so, it’s still applauded as something for us all to strive towards. People describe themselves as perfectionists in job interviews and we see it in role descriptions. It appears in Instagram bio’s, LinkedIn profiles and on company websites.
Well, I call BS on this, and I’ve written this article to debunk the most common myths when it’s comes to perfectionism.
1. Perfectionism is not striving for excellence.
Perfectionism is the belief that if we live, look and act perfect at all times, we can minimise or avoid the pain of failure, blame, judgement and shame. It’s a protection mechanism — but one that’s shrouded in fear and anxiety.
This is by no means a healthy way to live, and it can lead to obsessive behaviours which destroy our self-worth and our ability to feel like we’re good enough just as we are. And frankly, we deserve better than that.
2. Perfectionism is not healthy achievement.
The constant need to do everything perfectly is an extremely heavy burden to carry. It makes us afraid to try new things due to the risk that we’ll mess up of even fail.
But mistakes are key to learning. We must try and fail and try again in order to grow and develop. So this means that perfectionism stunts our growth by making us focus on perfecting and ruminating, rather than trying, learning and growing.
3. Perfectionism is not self-improvement.
Perfectionism isn’t focused on the self at all — it’s the endless attempt to earn approval and acceptance from others. This is counterproductive to self-development as it’s likely to lead us down paths that are aligned what we believe others expect of us, rather than aligning to our personal purpose and values. That’s a sure way to end up in a job and life that is unfulfilling and, at worse, depressing.
True self-development, on the other hand, is entirely self-focused as it asks, “How can I improve?” rather than, “What will they think?” — there’s a big difference between the two!
4. Perfectionism is not the key to success.
Perfectionism actually hinders our success and leads to more missed opportunities. This is because perfectionism is linked to anxiety, depression and life paralysis because we’re too afraid to put anything imperfect out into the world due to the fear of being judged or critiqued.
To be successful, we’re required to be vulnerable and to take risks. Perfectionism does not have time for either of these things, and favours security and certainty only.
5. Perfectionism is not an individual problem.
Perfectionism can’t be contained to one person — the perfectionist themselves. It’s actually contagious and we can spread our perfectionist tendancies to everyone around us.
This means that we pass on judgement and self-doubt to our children; we infect our workplaces with impossible expectations; and it suffocates our friends and family. Again, we deserve better!
But it doesn’t have to be this way. It is never too late to say goodbye to perfectionism and make steps to remove it from our lives entirely. I like to consider myself to be what Brené Brown calls a “recovering perfectionist” and here’s what I’ve learnt about how to break free from perfectionism so far:
- Reframe failure as a learning opportunity, and celebrate it!
- Practice self-compassion, treat yourself like you would treat a friend.
- Gain perspective, share what you’re trying with others and ask for ideas.
- Identify your triggers, find out what makes you tick.
About the author
Nat is one of two co-founders at The Future Kind Collective which exists to build a world that is kinder, fairer and more creative, where all people have the opportunity to do great things.
Nat is a purpose-driven strategist, empathetic people leader, designer of cultures, services and companies. She is passionate about lifetime learning, compassionate leadership and inclusive cultures.
Nat started her career in digital strategy, where she applied service design to the strategic development of the NatWest mobile banking app. In 2016, she joined SPARCK, a design consultancy, as their third employee, where she was influential in shaping and growing it into a mature organisation.
Throughout her consultancy career, Nat has led projects with varied clients including Insights, Amnesty International, BP, Vocalink (of MasterCard), DVSA, Fidelity, HSBC, ITV and Pizza Hut.
About The Future Kind Collective
The Future Kind Collective is a purpose-driven consultancy which exists to build a world that is kinder, fairer and more creative, where all people have the opportunity to do great things.
We help start-ups and scale-ups to define their purpose, design their culture and grow their impact, while also embedding the skills they need to unlock their power.
We’re here to challenge the existing consultancy model and prove that by putting people and purpose first, you can create businesses that are more profitable, impactful and equitable.
To find out more or to chat over a challenge you’re grappling with, get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
We’d love to hear from you!