Self Leadership and Perfectionism

Perfect or perfection is often thrown about in the business world as a desired state.  This might be voiced as an exclamation - “Oh perfect!”, as a statement, related to a particular desired outcome - “That is almost perfect?”  Clearly from the last sentence we can see that something is missing, not aligned correctly, has a small flaw and therefore in some way it does not achieve the status of “perfect” or “perfection”.

When looking into the dictionary at the definition of “perfect” and “perfection” we see:

Perfect -  “Complete and correct in every way, of the best possible type or without fault”. (Cambridge English Dictionary).

Perfection - “Quality of being, as good at it is possible for something of a particular kind to be”.  (Collins English Dictionary)

How do we define if something is perfect or not?  Of course when talking about figures in terms of achieving targets and goals, it is clear, you either achieve that figure, therefore its perfect, or you do not - a state of not being perfect.  For other situations and for behaviour we create parameters for measuring the end result, which then matches or it does not match and therefore is perfect or not.  However, what about being a perfectionist?  Someone who strives for the perfect result, which they decide is the final result and whether in their own eyes is perfect.  “A person who wants everything to be perfect and demands the highest standards possible”. (Cambridge English Dictionary)

When being a perfectionist or working for a boss who is a perfectionist, very often nothing is ever quite right, or good enough in some way, in other words it does not meet expectations.   Their expectations!  As a perfectionist how does this affect your life?  Very often you create your own stress around improving that result so that it becomes perfect.  The time “invested” in this last effort to create perfection, drains your resources through nervous energy, missing deadlines and being overly hard on yourself.  Not only do you suffer, but possibly so do those around you who have to wait while you achieve this perfection, have to deal with your emotional instability whilst you strive for that perfection and perhaps even try to negotiate you around to accepting what you have done is already “perfect” because it meets their expectations and the agreed parameters, or indeed the result is even better than they expected and they prefer the outcome, even though it is not exactly what was agreed according to those same parameters.

On the other side is that fact that being a perfectionist means that you do not make mistakes, defined as “Atelophobia” (taken from Greek) or the fear (phobia) of being imperfect (atelo).  If you do not make mistakes, how and what can you learn because you are already perfect?

Working for a boss who is a perfectionist can be demotivating, destabilising and frustrating, as nothing is ever good enough.  This means the feedback is always half-hearted at best,  - “Well, I like what you have done so far.  If you just work on this bit in XYZ way, it will be perfect!”    “You have produced something that is good, in order to improve on that, why don't you change this and then it will be perfect?”, and so on.  I am sure these and other similar statements are familiar.  I am also sure that over time hearing such feedback undermines your confidence and motivation, because you realise that whatever you do, you will never get it quite right, and therefore why put in the effort?  Leaving you with a feeling of being undervalued.

Performance, self assessment and stress are directly related.  Striving for perfection, does it change anything in the result and outcome, the investment of energy, analysis, action and so on?  How we assess ourselves is a reflection of self confidence, being a perfectionist is one of the quickest ways to undermine yourself and your self confidence.  Stress - pushing and pulling, putting in those extra hours to achieve that last tweak, that last re-model, re-work or other to achieve that level of perfection takes away from a balance of work to home life, sports, activities and friends, which can end up with self disappointment, beating yourself up for not being good enough, and potentially affecting your health through decreasing immunity to infections and viruses, stomach ulcers, and headaches, fatigue and perhaps in the worst case scenario even adrenal exhaustion.  Not to mention the fact that your family will suffer as will your friendships.  For what?  Knowing when you have achieved the goal and stopping there giving yourself the reward and satisfaction is key to self management and strong self confidence.

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