“That’s perfect Anita– well done. Have a gold star!” Remember those nostalgic days when you were in school and you were told to chase those straight A’s? How quickly a perfectionist learns to live by the words ‘I’m so pleased, this term I was top of my class’ and to enjoy the thrill of impressing others – and themselves – at the same time. A perfectionist would cry if they only managed a B+ or ended up only in second place. Some children hated school, but the chances are that the perfectionist child loved it as his, or her, success was quantifiable by the results of exams, assignments and teacher feedback —particularly when they made the grade. The maxim of ‘work hard and succeed’ worked like a dream for them.
However, those gold stars can sometimes cause a lifetime of frustration and personal dissatisfaction. In the adult world, success is measured differently and, not being structured in the same way as in school, there may well be times when you will miss the ‘good old school days’ where an A+ was all that to which you aspired.
An admirable quality
Of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with trying to be perfect – after all, it is an admirable quality to set high standards and to aim for excellence. However, perfectionists can take excellence to a different and more stressful level than those of mere high achievers. Perfectionists tend to worry more, and sometimes enjoy life less because they reject anything that is not perfection. In fact, the words ‘almost perfect’ can be seen as a sign of failure. Perfectionists are frequently aware that their constant aim for high standards are stressful and possibly unrealistic but they believe that their drive towards super high levels of productivity could not otherwise be obtained.
High achievers, on the other hand, invariably enjoy the chase just as much as the actual achievement of the goal itself. However, there are some perfectionists who just see the goal and nothing else. They’re so concerned with avoiding failure that they are unable to enjoy the satisfaction of the journey.
So where are you on the perfectionist scale?
All-Or-Nothing thinking type: Perfectionists – similar to high achievers – tend to set very high goals for themselves and constantly work hard towards reaching their stated targets. However, there is a difference between the two personality types. The high achiever will do their utmost to work to the best of their capability and be satisfied with their results even if they don’t reach 100%, provided they know that they have worked to the best of their ability with all available resources. However, a perfectionist will usually accept nothing less than 110% of the target goal and has little empathy with any lesser standard. I wonder if that your profile?
Drive to perfection type: You know that your drive to perfection is not necessarily helping your career path or even your relationships but you consider it is the price that you pay for success. The prototypical perfectionist is someone who will go to sometimes unhealthy lengths to avoid being just ‘average’ and their pursuit of success at any cost can frequently be linked to a workaholic, obsessive tendency.
Hard to communicate type: Perfectionists often develop a shield to protect themselves from failure but it can also get in the way of connecting with others. Because of an intense fear of failure, the perfectionist usually feels the need to be strong and in control of their emotions.
Take everything personally type: Because a performance setback can be difficult to accept, a perfectionist will tend to take constructive criticism defensively, while high achievers see criticism as valuable feedback.
Unrealistic Standards type: The goals of a perfectionist are often unreasonably self-set so high that they are frequently out of reach.
However, if you identify some of these perfectionist traits in yourself, don’t despair. Recognizing that a change in attitude may be needed is a very important first step towards creating a less obsessive nature and achieving the inner peace and real success that comes from overcoming obsessive perfectionism and being able to say that ‘almost perfect’ is still a job very well done!
- A 100% result is not always necessary or even realistic
- Perfectionism can be an obsessive trait that can fail to give optimum results
- Set your targets high and strive to meet them, but not at any cost
Written by Carole Spiers and reprinted with the kind permission of Gulf News.
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