Overcoming Perfectionism

I came across a quiz last week on LinkedIn and it went viral when I shared it with my clients and community. 

The quiz, titled, “Is your inner perfectionist running your life?”, was created by Founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, Reshma Saujani. Catchy title, right?

She hit this topic with the usual suspects around criticism, making mistakes and feedback. But I was more surprised with questions I don’t typically associate with this topic…questions related to saying yes when you mean no and having trouble asserting yourself. 

These are not uncommon issues I see coming up with high achievers in our communities.

I don’t know about you, but I grew up believing in the benefits of perfectionism. 

High standards lead to success, right? 

It’s true that perfectionism can serve in a lot of ways. People with this tendency bend towards great attention to detail, fewer mistakes, and excellence to all of the work they do.

They take ownership over projects, can deliver more polished results than others and go the extra mile. They push hard for goals and are therefore capable of achieving great things. There doesn’t appear to be an issue with perfectionism on the surface.

But, there’s a really dark side to this. According to The American Psychological Association, “perfectionism is the tendency to demand of others or of oneself an extremely high or even flawless level of performance, in excess of what is required by the situation.” It is often associated with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and other mental health problems. 

Perfectionists tend to overthink things and put themselves under extreme pressure to succeed. They are driven by a fear of not being able to achieve goals, which often backfires into lower productivity and the inability to deal with things that don’t live up to their unrealistic standards. 

As a result, they can struggle with mental issues such as anxiety and depression. The pressure is often too much and the drive for perfection can sabotage the very thing people set out to create. 

It’s an epidemic.

Although perfectionism has been historically associated with women, new research shows that men and women alike struggle with the pressures of high performance and meeting impossible standards. 

Perfectionism has grown significantly since the 90s and it’s ruining joy AND impact. One of the longest running studies ever done on this topic calls this trend an “epidemic” and identifies one generation that’s been affected most – Millennials.

Millennials are struggling. This generation is more predisposed to perfectionism than previous groups for multiple reasons. 

Raised in our rank and performance culture, millennials have grown up with the pressures of social media and need to present a “perfect” online life. They have had controlling parenting practices and the real AND perceived yardsticks in every direction. All of these are creating an unstable crowd and an unstable workforce. 

So what do we do? 

If perfectionism is causing more issues for you than it’s solving, here are some things I’ve learned to practice to keep my perfectionism in check: 

  • Practice self awareness. Spend some time noticing your tendencies and thought patterns around perfectionism. Where and when do you struggle most? 
  • Zoom out. Attention to detail is incredibly time consuming and presents a huge opportunity cost for your time. When you go big picture and look at what’s most important, it changes your perspective dramatically. 
  • Set a timer for your tasks. To avoid overthinking and overwriting, set a realistic timeframe and stick to it. Experiment with “good enough.”
  • Just start. Stop focusing on the end result and break it up into smaller pieces. Let the momentum carry you. 
  • Decide what’s good enough. Re-evaluate your standards and what’s truly a win for you.
  • Change your mind about your mistakes. We literally don’t move forward unless we’re risking and failing. Stuck is worse than failure. (Read that again.)

Perfectionism is no stranger to me. It wasn’t until several years ago that I truly recognized the dark side of this trait that I’d always thought was such a positive driver to success. 

If this is you, I’m inviting you to experiment with another perspective! Try some of the steps above – you may just create or accomplish something even better than perfect.