Perfectionism seems so useful. It seems good. It’s all about excellence and being the best we can be at something, right? Kind of. There are good parts of perfectionism–the hard work, attention to detail, conscientiousness, and high motivation. When perfectionists do accomplish things, it is pretty impressive, right?
But the parts of perfectionism that are NOT good are the ones that differentiate perfectionism from simply healthy striving. In this episode I give seven hallmarks of perfectionism. It’s not an exhaustive list, but some of the things I see a lot in my perfectionist ballroom dance clients.
1. Procrastination-While it seems like perfectionists are high performers and that they would get a lot done, often the opposite is true. Needing the product to be exact and perfect leads to procrastination because it’s never quite up to our standards. That, or we get overwhelmed by what needs to be done to make it perfect and we delay or don’t do it in order to feel relief from the pressure and overwhelm.
2. When is enough, enough? Perfectionists don’t know when to stop. We can always improve things and make it better, but when does that end? Others may see what we have done as awesome and great, but we can still see it as flawed and not good enough. We don’t have a realistic sense of what “good” is. Constantly trying to make it better can lead to overworking and exhaustion…aka burnout.
3. Burnout is common in perfectionists. We do a lot of work and then possibly don’t put it out into the world. Or when we finally do, it has gone through so many drafts that we are just plain exhausted. Also, perfectionists are slim on praise for themselves. They don’t offer the congratulatory pat on the back for a job well done very often. It’s really hard to keep up the good work when the rewards are few and far between. So we kind of have to quit for a while, recharge, and then try again. This happens much less often when someone can feel good about their work and move on quickly from setbacks.
4. Low self-esteem is a hallmark of perfectionism that is sometimes hard to spot. But all perfectionism stems from a need to prove oneself as worthy, either to oneself or to others. But when the voice in your head is mostly critical and unyielding, it makes sense that you wouldn’t feel very good about yourself and persistently see yourself as less.
5. Perfectionism can lead to an emotional roller coaster. Lots of stress, pressure and anxiety up front and depression on the back end. When this keeps up chronically, it can lead to mental, emotional and physical ailments as well.
6. Hindered creativity and innovation–Just ask a dancer who is trying to dance perfectly and also be creative and expressive and you will see why perfectionism gets in the way. Fearing failure means we are less wiling to take risks, less willing to try new things.
7. Strained relationships. Perfectionists hold themselves to high standards and often those around them. In dancing this can be especially apparent in partnerships. The perfectionist may view the other person as lazy or like they don’t care as much. This lead to frustration, resentment (on both parts) poor communication and problem solving, and more conflict when a perfectionist is unyielding.
The good news is that high performance can exist without the dark side of perfectionism. You get to keep the healthy striving, high motivation, attention to detail and lots of success–without the fog of negativity and criticism.
Perfectionism feels noble but it’s a pair of handcuffs preventing you from becoming all that you could be. It’s not making you perfect. It’s making you small and scared. Let it go and see what happens.