I clearly remember the “killer question” I was asked at every single graduate interview.
“So, Nicola, we’ve talked a lot about your strengths but can you tell me about your weaknesses?”
Cue a bashful smile as I trotted out my well-prepared, stock response:
“Ah well, I would say my biggest weakness is that I am a perfectionist.”
I now cringe when I think about it!
I had prepared this stock response to reinforce the idea that I was hardworking, dedicated and committed to my work.
What organisation would not want to hire a perfectionist?
Fast forward 22 years, I now class myself as an almost fully recovered perfectionist (I still have my moments) and I appreciate that the pursuit of perfection is not always a good thing.
A perfectionist will:
1. Minimise their successes and focus on their mistakes
A perfectionist will never be satisfied with the work that they do. If they do ninety nine things brilliantly and one thing wrong, you can guarantee they will focus all their time, energy and attention on the thing that went wrong.
Perfectionists put unsustainable pressure on themselves. When they achieve a goal, rather than celebrating, their first thought is “what’s next?” This behaviour results in perpetual dissatisfaction and can eventually lead to burnout.
When I worked in consulting, rather than celebrating when we signed a new client, I was already focused on the nitty gritty of how we would deliver the project. Then, as that project came to an end, my attention would turn to seeking out the next opportunity and the cycle would continue.
I can now appreciate the need to celebrate every single milestone, no matter how small!
2. Worry about maintaining their own high standards
The problem with reaching the top is that there is only one way…. down. This then puts additional pressure on the perfectionist to continue to maintain their very high standards.
I achieved 98% for my O’Level Accounting exam. Rather than celebrate the 98%, at the school prize giving my Head Master stood up and said ‘Nicola will always wonder what happened to the other 2%’.
He was right, up to a point. For years I put myself under ridiculous pressure to maintain my self-imposed high academic standards. Nobody made me study so hard but there was no way I was giving anything less than 110%.
These days, I am kinder to myself. I still give 110% to the work that I do but I also know that if I do get something wrong, the world will not come to an end.
3. Miss deadlines because they don’t think their work is good enough
Things are rarely perfect. If you wait for your work to be perfect before you share it with the world then you run the risk of being caught in a constant cycle of rehashing and redoing. Sometimes if you spend so long rehashing and redoing, your work is no longer even relevant by the time you get round to sharing it!
In the early days of my business, I created a short course about how to use Twitter. It took me so long to create all of the material the entire platform had moved on and my content was out of date before I even launched it!!!!!
4. Stop themselves from trying new things in case they go wrong
If you want everything to be perfect then chances are you will stick to doing the things that you know you can do well.
A perfectionist is less likely to acquire new skills or volunteer for a project in a different industry sector. They want to have the guarantee that they will succeed. This keeps the perfectionist stuck.
5. Struggle to delegate
A perfectionist hates to delegate. They believe that nobody can do the work as well as they can. Even if they do manage to pass on the work to other people, they can be hyper-critical if the work doesn’t match their very exacting standards.
The problem with not delegating is that the perfectionist becomes overburdened. They have WAY too much on their plate and they want to do all of it to their own very high standards.
Not only that, their team members lose out because they are not being given the opportunity to learn how to do the work that the perfectionist is holding on to. This can often result in people not wanting to work with the perfectionist. Who wants to work with a person who doesn’t let others do the interesting work and is overly picky when they do?
Letting go of perfection can give a HUGE sense of relief. It will allow you to:
· Enjoy your work more
· Free up your time
· Have a better perspective on the situations you face
· Accept that you are human, mistakes happen and you can learn from those mistakes
· Be a better manager and leader
Letting go of perfectionism isn’t easy, but it can be done. If you like some help with how, feel free to book in my diary to talk about Career Coaching – I’d love to help you – you can book a call here.
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