When the show went live in July, I hopped on Instagram Stories to discuss what we’d learned from our chat. By the end of the day, my DMs were overflowing with such wisdom and insight, I knew I needed to address the same topic somewhere less ephemeral.
As I told Charlie, I believe perfectionism can be a good thing. At school, it made me a high-achiever. It’s why I’m so detail oriented and well suited to the role of copywriter.
More generally, if you’re always striving for perfection, it means you’re always trying to improve. This attitude creates the opportunity for innovation, and since you’re continually getting better at what you do, it’s quite likely you’ll become an expert in your field.
But pursuing perfection has a dark side too.
Why is Perfectionism Sometimes a Bad Thing?
Perfection is an impossible goal. If you honestly believe everything needs to be perfect, that’s quite a psychological burden to saddle yourself with.
Perfectionists set impossibly high standards for themselves. As a result, they’re not happy even when they achieve success because there’s always more that could have been accomplished. I experienced this a lot at university. My high marks were never quite high enough.
Many perfectionists are held back from ever achieving success in the first place simply because of their anxiety over making mistakes.
‘The maxim ‘nothing but perfection’ may be spelled ‘paralysis’. – Winston Churchill
Here are some more observations I received via DM:
‘I personally don’t think perfectionism leads to success. Mostly it leads to stress and feelings of overwhelm which in turn leads to burnout.’
‘I think it’s a really controlling tendency which can risk stifling others.’
‘Your greatest strength becomes your greatest weakness when it goes unchecked. Wanting to do something to a high standard and caring deeply about it is a strength, but getting all crazy and trying to do it all alone is that same strength when it’s gone unchecked and is out of control.’
‘It can feel very controlling to work under someone who is a perfectionist and doesn’t allow autonomy of their team members. This can be terrible for morale and productivity’.
How Do You Overcome It?
My biggest takeaway from these conversations is that I need to start recognising when my perfectionism is serving me and when it’s holding me back. At the same time, I need to be more aware of its impact on those around me.
Rather than trying to let go of this tendency completely, I want to better understand when it’s showing up and what purpose it’s serving when it does. This awareness should help me optimise a trait that can be both a blessing and a curse, a strength and a weakness. It might even feel empowering.
Working Through It
Self-awareness sounds great, but what do I do when perfectionism shows up in a negative way? I asked my audience on Instagram the same question. Here’s what they said:
‘Remember nothing and no one is perfect.’
‘My mantra is ‘don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good’.’
‘Something is better than nothing, done is better than perfect.’
‘Perfection does not exist. It’s a totally unachievable goal. There’s beauty in imperfection.’
‘Aim for excellence, not perfection and recognise when good is good enough.’
‘Accept praise! If someone says what you’ve done is good, take it. They mean it.’
Here’s a mix of my own recommendations and a handful of resources suggested to me via DM…
- The Perils of Perfectionism
- Daring Greatly* by Brene Brown
- The Courage Habit* by Kate Swoboda
- Essentialism* by Greg McKeown
- An Introduction to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
- How I’m Recovering From Perfectionism by Ingrid Nilsen
- Without Fail
- Have you successfully shrugged off your perfectionist tendencies? Please tell me all your secrets!
Love Audrey xxx
P.S. A version of this post originally appeared in Letters From Love Audrey, my monthly newsletter filled with creative inspiration for your business. If you’ve enjoyed reading this today, you can sign-up here.