Perfectionism used to be viewed as a strength. But it isn’t. With each generation, the amount perfectionists continue to increase. Yes, it’s possible to get a perfect score on a test, but it’s not possible to get a perfect score in life.
Perfection Is Impossible
The desire to be perfect burdens many people and ironically dooms them to be unhappy. At first you might think that perfection is desirable, but perfectionism suggests a state of flawlessness. Seeking perfection at a particular task might be achievable. Yet, the goal of being perfect in life is altogether impossible.
Think about an assembly line robot or your cell phone. It may operate perfectly – at least for a little while. Yet, over time it begins to wear down, require updates and repairs, and eventually, it’s thrown away or scrapped. Humans were never intended to be perfect. That’s part of the definition of being human. We need to remind ourselves that the goal isn’t to emulate a machine but to embrace the imperfection of being human.
True perfectionism isn’t a strength. However, striving for quality and aiming for excellence are strengths. As entrepreneurs, I consider those to be essential traits. Quality means a solid, scalable business and an edge over competitors. It means upholding high standards and having high expectations of yourself and your team. Those are absolutely good business goals. Perfectionists can be great assets to your team, but someone with true perfectionist tendencies will need to be managed carefully.
What Does Research Say About Perfectionism?
Researchers Thomas Curran and Andrew Hill found that perfectionism is on the rise. Rates of perfectionism among undergraduate students in the US, Canada, and the UK were analyzed from 1989 to 2016.
They found that today’s college students were more likely to have perfectionist tendencies. And it’s not just that perfectionism is increasing, but that people are facing what Curran and Hill term as “multi-dimensional perfectionism,” which means people feel pressured to meet increasingly high standards across a widening range of metrics. Leading to increased mental illness, anxiety, depression, and eating disorders among people in their 20s.
Perfectionism is leading people to become sicker and sadder. Among study participants, it was common that they felt the need to measure up to peers, while at the same time, they were harsh critics of themselves. Social media undeniably plays a role and it has now been pervasive for around a decade. As we all know, it tends to feature people’s highlight reels, rather than the less “glossy” reality. It’s all a part of the multi-dimensional factor that the study unearthed, and has even LED people within the industry to restrict their own use.
Is Perfectionism Harmful To Others?
Perfectionists also have an impact on the people around them. When their own standards are so high that they’re never good enough, what does that mean for others? Researchers have found that the kids of perfectionist parents often feel that there’s no way they can live up to the standards of their parents. Kids [can] pick up even the most subtle cue, and they feel inadequate without you saying a word.
Perfectionism is a problematic perspective that can have serious implications. In a work context, perfectionists might find it difficult to get started, to finish, or to meet deadlines. They might themselves in knots second-guessing every decision they make and beat themselves up for days over any perceived “mistake,” and ultimately, find it difficult to reach their performance potential.
There are various techniques that a perfectionist can follow to try to overcome perfectionism. You can focus on what you enjoy instead of what you might fail on, accept that you’re human and so is everyone else, and only compare yourself to yourself.
Perfectionism is something that people have viewed as a secret strength. But it isn’t. True perfectionism can be painful and debilitating. Leading researchers on this topic have shown perfectionism is on the rise, and true perfectionism is a clinical condition that can be crippling.
Perfectionism can lead to or be a part of a range of other mental conditions and can hold people back rather than see them achieve their full potential.
There’s a big difference between upholding high standards and perfectionism. If you struggle with perfectionism, it’s okay to seek help and take steps to curb it.