Four Signs You Are A Perfectionist

imposter syndrome perspective Jan 13, 2023

"The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself. - Anna Quindlen

Last week, I wrote about Imposter Syndrome and its many forms. In addition, I noted that I personally struggled with perfectionism – in fact, I am a recovering perfectionist. But perfectionism is a word many people often oversimply, glorify or misunderstand: it is far deeper than just an individual who feels the need to have everything done exactly right.

Throughout my career, perfectionism has taken on a much deeper meaning…and I see several harmful tendencies of perfectionism in more people than most would expect. Travis Bradberry says it ideally in his article -Eight Signs your Perfectionism is Out of Control - "Most people lean hard into their perfectionism—they extol it as a virtue to the point that it becomes a vice. Doing so is troubling because separate studies from the University of British Columbia and the University of Tehran show that perfectionism is linked to depression, anxiety, and a slew of mental health issues".

Here are four ways perfectionism might be creeping into your character, accompanied with tips to combat them.

Fear of saying the wrong thing. A common tendency of perfectionists is to avoid speaking up out of fear of saying the wrong thing. They believe that if they participate in a conversation and say the wrong thing, then people will think they don't deserve to be in the room, and they will be ridiculed for it. Because of this, perfectionists often find it easier not to speak up at all, and in doing so, they miss out on many productive conversations. 

TIP: Next time you are in a meeting or are brainstorming with your team, make the conscious decision that even though you may not have the exact right words, you are still choosing to spark a conversation and provide value in a helpful, constructive way. Speak up next time you have a productive thought or idea…it might turn out better than you think.

Overthinking when you stumble over your words. Stumbling during a big presentation or even an informal conversation can get your mind running. And I mean really running. The human brain is powerful, and if you submit to its uninhibited doom-like tendencies, small mixups can lead to actual harmful mistakes, getting your inner critic to take hold and inhibiting you from taking risks.

TIP: The best way to handle a mishap is to shrug it off and view it as a learning lesson. Doing so will help you establish a healthy foundation of self-confidence that will allow you to shake off any potentially embarrassing mistake that might come your way. 

Being afraid to ask for help. For many perfectionists, it's about something other than getting the job done right. It's about getting it done right by themselves. They feel as though if they ask for help, it invalidates their final product or makes them less accomplished. This is common, and it hurts many people in their deliverables.

TIP: While there is value in independence and working through issues on your own, there is also a time and a place to ask for help. In the end, you want to deliver your best performance. To do this, you may have to do a bit of self-assessment to realize where you are strong and where you are weak, and in the latter areas, don't be afraid to ask for help. You will be surprised at how willing people are to give counsel and provide support. It will even help you create deeper connections with the people around you.

Procrastination. Perfectionists tend to be all-or-nothing thinkers. They will often work to do something perfectly or not do it at all. Because good, quality work takes time, and perfectionists will often be scared to start as they know the preliminary work will be challenging and not their perfect job. They are trying to reduce the amount of time spent in a non-perfect zone, but in doing so, they hurt the quality of their final product. 

TIP: Practice what writer Anne Lamott calls "shitty first drafts." Pay attention to the tasks you are putting off and commit to doing them poorly, lifting off the expectation that it needs to be done perfectly. As Author Jodie Picoult says, "You can edit a bad page, but you can't edit a blank page".

Bonus Tip for Leaders: Don't be afraid to make fun of yourself. The most successful leaders I have ever come across have mastered the art of making their mistakes into funny lessons. They lead from the front, own up to their mistakes, and do so in a lighthearted and cheerful way. They shrug it off, lean into the lesson, and take the pressure off the situation. Not only does this make you more relaxed and unafraid of making mistakes, but as a leader, it signals something essential to your employees and co-workers: it's okay for them to make mistakes, too.

You should get in the habit of openly talking about mistakes with your team members. For example, when I started leading my current team, I implemented "the screw-up of the week," and we all would share something we messed up and how we fixed it. At times, we did not have a fix for it, but talking about the mistake and getting support from one another made all the difference.

Bonus Tip for Readers: Read The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown. Her guidepost #2: Cultivating Self-Compassion, explains the difference between Healthy Striving and Perfectionism and how we need to acknowledge our vulnerabilities and practice self-compassion to overcome perfectionism.

Perfectionism shows itself in many forms and many ways. It can be destructive if you let it, but over time you can eliminate it through intentional practice. If you feel perfectionism is negatively affecting you, remember that you are not alone. Find comfort in the reality that many people are in a spot just like you, and know that perfection is not required to get where you want to go. Instead, practice self-love and understanding, and realize that nobody is perfect. I'll leave you with one last quote from Brene Brown:

"When we can let go of what other people think and own our story, we gain access to our worthiness - the feeling that we are enough just as we are and that we are worthy of love and belonging." 

Have a great weekend :)

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