How to Erode Your Success with Perfection

Mar 29, 2021
We all have that friend or coworker that claims to be a perfectionist. Or maybe you're the one touting this attribute. You may think a perfectionist is someone who is detail-oriented, a type-A, go-getter.
Let's be honest, it is the best answer when asked in an interview, "What's your biggest weakness?" A way of humbly saying "Being perfect is my only flaw."
All joking aside I do believe there are dark sides to this personality type that needs to be explored for a few reasons. If you're hiring a perfectionist you need to understand the dynamic you're getting into and if you are one you need to realize what you are actually showing the world.
Poor Time Management
Have you ever met a perfectionist who was on time? I never have. Because of their perfectionist ways, they tend to be late for nearly everything. Perfectionists get completely engrossed in a task and think they only need a few more seconds to "solve the puzzle." A few more minutes turns into 30 and now they are late the rest of their day because inevitably they will get sucked into the same cycle in the next meeting too.
I know this first hand as I used to do it chronically. I'm still in recovery and sometimes slip into this rather annoying behavior.
What this says to the rest of the world: The people sitting in a conference room waiting for you to show up feel disrespected. You have no value for other's time and are therefore labeled self-centered.
How To Fix It: Time block your day so that reminders pop up when another meeting is about to stop but make sure to HONOR IT! Promptly end your meeting by explaining "I don't want to disrespect the time of my next meeting's attendees." Also, when the meeting starts ask for someone in the meeting to take notes so that the unfinished action items can be captured and dealt with at the next meeting OR by someone other than you!
Execution Is Not Their Strength
Perfectionists are the first to point out the issues and even come up with ideas but they have trouble carrying the ball all the way across the field. Why? Because they have a fear of failing and in order not to fail they must have absolutely everything right. This is also known as analysis paralysis. While a level of this is imperative to create thoroughly well thought out ideas, at some point one must stop and actually bring their creations to life for others to build upon.
This is where I'm not like a perfectionist. In fact, I'm what I like to refer to as a "ready, fire, aim" person. Sometimes I don't think my ideas thoroughly through before executing. Although this has served me well as I fail a lot and learn much faster than when I hold ideas so close that they never see the light of day, AKA I never do anything with them.
What this says to the rest of the world: You are not confident in your ideas or abilities. Execution gets you the raise and the bonus. Failure to launch gets you poor performance reviews and a bad reputation as a "shiny bobble non-finisher" (Have you ever seen a dog with something shiny? They stop whatever they are doing and run to it. As soon as they catch it they move on to the next shiny bobble. As for non-finisher, I made this word up because I couldn't find a good word for not finishing the thing. This word is, however, in the urban dictionary.)
How to Fix It: Create a plan for every project or task with definite end dates. No matter what happens hold yourself to these dates. Even if the finished product isn't perfect you need to move the ball forward.
Critical of Others
Have you ever had a perfectionist boss? It's not fun. Guess what though? If your boss is critical of you they are even more critical of themselves. You know the old rule "treat others as you want to be treated", that's what they are doing!
Typically how we treat others is a reflection of how we treat ourselves. If someone has high standards for themselves they have this same expectation of everyone around them. This isn't altogether bad, raising the level of thoroughness of those around you could be a gift! But 9 times out of 10 it comes off as a curse.
What this says to the rest of the world: Your coworkers, employees, and your spouse may feel that nothing they do is ever good enough. There's little praise and the micromanagement is enough to make the most gifted person feel incapable. As a boss you aren't a good fit because you don't know how to build a team up and will cause a constant turnover, costing a company a great deal of money and time to train and retrain employees.
How to Fix It: Before speaking to anyone make a list of 3 things you liked about their behavior, idea, or work. Sprinkle these in with constructive criticism at the beginning, middle, and end of the discussion. Now you've become a motivator! Kick turnover to the curb!
Deep-Seated Self Worth Issues are at Play
You may have never looked at a perfectionist in this light but self-worth issues and a fear of failure is paramount in all they do.
What would happen if they failed? It may ruin their reputation. They may no longer be a valuable member of the team. None of this is true but this is the tape that plays in the perfectionist's head daily (if not hourly).
What this says to the rest of the world: You are scared to take risks which means you probably aren't right for fast-paced, high-risk companies that involve constant change. As a manager, your feelings of worthlessness will seep into your team like a virus.
How to Fix It: Don't be afraid to examine these feelings through personal development books^, meditation^^, and even therapy.
^ I'm a huge fan of Mel Robbin's book The 5 Second Rule and Jen Sencero's book You Are a Badass
^^An amazing app for meditation is Headspace. You actually receive a 10 day free trial at sign-up.

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