Could Unchecked Perfectionism Be Holding Your Career Hostage?

Unchecked perfectionism is addressed in my upcoming book, “Wishes are for Wussies: Finding Success without Luck, Chance or Circumstance.” When writing the next chapter in your career, especially when moving toward a independent career (solopreneur, contractor, portfolio careerist, etc…), it is critical to understand who you are as the main character of your story. What are your strengths and what challenges have you experienced in the past? It’s up to you acknowledge character traits to build upon or keep in check before it turns into your biggest villain. Today, we look at one trait: being a perfectionist.

In the span of a week, I had two friends talk to me about how perfectionism may be negatively impacting their work and forward movement. It was resulting in sleepless nights, fear-based paralysis when applying for jobs, and overall dissatisfaction from their work. So, I decided to look into the matter and came across this article from Psychology Today that surprised me. 

If you don’t have the time to read it, I’ll get right to the shocking bits. People with traits of perfectionism often find themselves guilty of…

  • Giving up before you start
  • Feel anxious when not given enough praise
  • Not following routines as planned freaks you out
  • Doing things themselves to ensure it is “done right”
  • Making even simple decisions is difficult
  • You decline opportunities if you’re not 100% sure you’ll perform well

There were more examples listed, but you may already be thinking some of those sound familiar. I was surprised, because I related a lot. I’ve never considered myself a perfectionist, but maybe I should. Take the above watercolor scene from Game of Thrones. I painted it for friends in thanks for a kindness they had done for my husband and me. I wasn’t super proud of it, but it was just a big greeting card in my mind – something they would toss away, so I sent it. Months later, I find out that our friends bought a new, gorgeous home and HUNG THE PAINTING IN IT! My juvenile painting! Because I was focused on everything that was wrong with it, I didn’t feel honored rather than embarrassed. I realized that I have a lot to learn about perfectionism. So, down the rabbit hole I went…

There are three types of perfectionism according to Psychology Today:

  1. Self-oriented perfectionism: Imposing an irrational desire to be perfect on oneself.
  2. Other-oriented perfectionism: Placing unrealistic standards of perfection on others.
  3. Socially-prescribed perfectionism: Perceiving excessive expectations of perfection from others.

Do you identify with one? I think I’m a mix of #1 and #3. Left unchecked, a perfectionist can fail to celebrate victories (feeling it is never good enough or felt they didn’t get enough praise), procrastinate on going after that project or promotion (fear of failing) or work to unhealthy degree to avoid criticism or judgement. It can also impact your relationships at work. Putting your unrealistic expectations on others and being more focused on the wrong things (not celebrating wins) can make you pretty unlikable.

Alright, possible challenges identified. What are the possible opportunities for growth? I asked an amazing career coach Megan Myers for her tips on understanding and working with these tendencies*. While she believes perfectionism can be a challenge, she also believes it to be a strength to work with rather than against. Megan dishes out her top tips for dealing with perfectionism:

– Set clear boundaries. Set boundaries for your own work. Make sure you have “scheduled” time to relax. One way to do this is by setting clear project milestones (like mini goals), this way you can set it aside when you accomplish a milestone and avoid spending too long on it. Another similar option is try setting timers for how long you want to work on a task.

– Explore and develop your sense of self confidence. Be aware of past experiences and sense of self concept that might impact your views on your work. Perfectionism can impact us even more heavily when confidence is lower. If your confidence bucket is feeling full (not from accomplishments – just from being in touch with your inner self) then you may not be quite as hard on yourself with self-critical perfectionist tendencies

– Use your wise mind to hold space for your feelings. The wise mind concept originates from Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. The idea behind this is that we have an emotional mind and a logical mind. The logical mind is rooted in facts, and the emotional mind is rooted in the inner emotions and reactions. Allow yourself a moment to feel the emotions associated with perfectionist tendencies, then try to look at just the facts. For example, perhaps you are upset that you did not meet a project deadline. When turning to the facts you can try to look at the situation objectively. Were you unable to meet the deadline due to quick turn around? The wise mind comes into play when an individual is able to acknowledge both the emotion and the facts. For example, “I feel really upset I didn’t make this deadline and it makes me feel less capable; however, the information I received from the team was incomplete and it would have been very difficult to meet this deadline.” Using the wise mind allows you to hold space for the emotions and facts, because they are both legitimate and part of the human experience. 

Open up. If you know you need detailed directions or get frustrated with a lack of participation, try to allow for honest communication to combat these challenges early on. The sooner you own these elements of your personality, the sooner you can use them to your advantage rather than to your disadvantage. We all have strengths and weaknesses and our strengths can be our weaknesses if we allow them to dominate our thinking patterns. If you are able to open up, and set clear expectations, then you may be less likely to be frustrated or disappointed later on.  

We all have strengths and weaknesses and our strengths can be our weaknesses if we allow them to dominate our thinking patterns.

– Megan Myers

If the perfectionism is a result of setting difficult goals for yourself, then open and share your feelings with a friend, family member, or professional. Be sure you are setting realistic expectations with others and yourself. Talking about the expectations you have for others, as well as yourself, can help you get a better understanding of how these tendencies are impacting you and ensure these expectations are realistic. It can also serve as a powerful outlet for these feelings.

Thanks, Megan! Whether you’re in the process of changing your career path, or looking for more direction on your journey, understanding your strengths and opportunities is a critical first step. Are you still working on being a thriving perfectionist? Maybe you’re still trying to overcome some career challenges? Reach out to Megan! She’s offering a free (that’s right, free!) 30-minute coaching session – just mention “Wishes are for Wussies” to snag the deal. Get started here.

*DISCLAIMER: While perfectionism is a title that helps identify personality traits, it’s not a diagnosable mental health disorder in the DSM 5. These insights and tips are unrelated to a mental health diagnosis and neither author of this blog post is a licensed counselor.

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