By Eugene Brink
Perfection invariably almost sounds virtuous and commendable. Who doesn’t want to be and appear perfect?
This is a good question with some exceptions as answers. Doing work well and striving for perfection per se is not a bad thing, but it is if it becomes obsessive and detracts from efficiency.
Jules Shroeder, a career expert at Forbes focused on Millennials, says perfection can be paralysing. “On the one hand, it holds you to high standards and ensures you only create exceptional work. But on the other hand, those same standards bind you, causing you to procrastinate, avoid action, and be less effective.”
This applies particularly to office workers, who must often juggle several administrative and other responsibilities simultaneously. “Psychologically, we chase perfection because of the safety it provides. It’s easy to hide your flaws behind the veil of perfectionism, and only reveal or act when you feel you are guaranteed success. But in doing this, you often end up limiting yourself and your career,” she says.
But how exactly does it undermine your career? In a lot of ways, actually.
- Missed opportunities for growth and time-wasting
Career blogger Jessica Thiefels says perfectionists make a point of avoiding everything they are not good at. “If you’re not the star player, you don’t even want to be on the team. Wanting to be the best is motivating, but striving for total perfection can keep you from making yourself vulnerable; both are critical for growth in your career.
“If you’re feeling stagnant in your career, fear of failure may be the culprit. Find ways to make yourself more vulnerable at least once a week, whether you take on a challenging project or share your opinion in a meeting.”
Kat Boogaard, who writes for The Muse on careers and life, says nobody likes to set themselves up for defeat and embarrassment, but holding yourself back from opportunities for growth, improvement, and learning to avoid potential humiliation isn’t recommended either. “Constantly ranking being perfect ahead of being human is a sure-fire way to limit yourself both professionally and personally.”
Learn to “let go” ever so often and to live with mistakes. Also, limit your risk of failure. Plan and don’t start with immensely big ventures. Start small and if you fail, you fail small too. “Don’t let your high standards paralyse you,” says Shroeder.
Fretting over small things could also distract you from the big things and in this way constrain your abilities and growth. Maintaining your focus on something that was already near-perfect the first time you completed it, wastes valuable time you could have spent on performing other tasks.
- It sucks all the joy out of being good at something
You need to be able to celebrate your wins and do a victory lap. After all, that it is what you work for and what life is all about. “Honestly, being a perfectionist is all-consuming. I become tirelessly focused on polishing something within in an inch of its life, until someone finally forces me to move on and turn it in. And, once I get that task or project off my plate, I’m immediately moving on to the next thing.”
She says the problem with this is not only the forfeited pleasure and the constant underlying feeling of underachievement, but the fact that it eventually leads to burnout.
- You suck at team-playing
Whether you are a manager or co-worker in an office setting, perfectionism and the way in which it maddens everybody around you will turn people away from you.
Boogaard says not everybody wants to live up to the ridiculous standards you set for yourself. “People are different. Just because you’re infatuated with the idea of perfection doesn’t necessarily mean everybody else is. And — let’s face it — most perfectionists also end up being complete control freaks.”
This will not play to your team members’ strengths and probably only instil a sense of inferiority in them instead of spurring them on to new heights.
Thiefels says an additional problem is that you never ask for help and fail to delegate and soundboard with colleagues. This does not unlock all the capacity in a team.
In the end, a healthy perfectionism is the way to go: Trying to do as much as you can, as best you can, within the time afforded to you.
Jessica Thiefels, 3 April 2017, “6 Ways Being A Perfectionist Is Hurting Your Career”, https://good.co/blog/6-ways-perfectionist-hurting-career/.
Jules Shroeder, 9 February 2017, “How Perfectionism Is Sabotaging Your Career”, https://www.forbes.com/sites/julesschroeder/2017/02/09/how-perfectionism-is-sabotaging-your-career/?sh=7e961b1779c1.
Kat Boogaard, 2021, “5 Reasons Being a Perfectionist Actually Is Your Biggest Weakness (and Not Just in Interviews)”, https://www.themuse.com/advice/5-reasons-being-a-perfectionist-actually-is-your-biggest-weakness-and-not-just-in-interviews.