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Reflections on perfectionism

Updated: Feb 29

Do you strive for perfection in the things that you do and in life generally?


I see this coming up a lot in the work that I do with clients, so it’s something I wanted to take a moment to reflect upon. I used to do this too, but I realised a long time ago that perfectionism can create unnecessary stress, so I let go of the need to seek it. I learned that perfectionism fuels self-criticism, which is not a healthy thing to cultivate. Of course, being able to reflect, learn and grow is important. However, this is different to constantly berating yourself.


It is widely perceived that perfectionism is a good quality and trait to have, especially in working environments and the material, self-publicising world we live in. People are often concerned about the external aspects of life, such as what people think of them and how their lives are portrayed to others. This is accentuated through the influence and prominent place social media has in our lives. Having and living a perfect life seems to be the common goal. But have you ever paused to consider and reflect on what drives your need for perfectionism? Does it stem from a healthy place?

Wherever our drive for perfectionism stems from we should be sure it is coming from a healthy place, otherwise it can impact detrimentally on relationships with ourselves, others and the world.


For many people the need for perfectionism is rooted in a fear of failure, of not living up to other people’s expectations, not fitting in with their peers, fear of being judged, low self-worth, jealousy, or it can stem from childhood. Did you have parents that criticised you and did not let you make your own decisions or at least support your choices. Perfectionism can be a result of being shamed so that you fear if you do not say and do everything perfectly you will be judged, rejected, or not loved. For others it can be linked to psychological challenges such as OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder).


Perfectionism in the workplace can be toxic. I have worked in organisations where leaders are perfectionists (or perhaps narcissists) and they push this down on to those they manage. Work must be perfect, so expectations are often unrealistic. Leaders put unnecessary demands on staff and create a culture of overworking. This places additional pressure on stressed and burnt out staff who are already overwhelmed with their workload.


Of course, it is not just leaders who can be perfectionists. Any employee can have perfectionist tendencies. Are you the person in the office that has to overdo every single task and painstakingly create documents and spreadsheets with lots of extra information and design that is not needed? Do you reprint everything if something is a millimetre out or has a crease in it? Do you have to compete with your colleagues to feel valued as you can’t stand to be seen as anything other than perfect and because you need external validation? Behaviour like this can cause unnecessary tension, create conflict, put you under pressure, and be a waste of time and resource. Of course, having a good work ethic and completing work to a high standard is not a bad thing. We just need to mindful that we are not being excessive or striving for perfection for the wrong reasons.


In families without realising it, do you push your children based on your own perfectionist tendencies? Although you may not always realise it, your drive for perfectionism can put pressure on your children. You want them in the best schools, performing, being high achievers, and getting amazing results. Outside of school you strive to ensure their time is filled with experiences and doing things. You feel proud when they do something right but are hard on them when they get it wrong or have days when they do not feel motivated. This can have a detrimental impact on their health, well-being, self-esteem, and perception of themselves and they can feel shamed. Longterm it can harm your relationship with them.


There is a lot more I could say on this subject but for the purpose of this post I only want to touch on it briefly to raise awareness. With this in mind I invite you to consider if you are a perfectionist and if so where it comes from? Then ask whether it is serving you in your relationship with yourself, relationships with your friends, family, in the workplace and other groups you might be part of.


If you think you might be a perfectionist then consider how you can change this, even just a little and also realise that you are enough and good enough is good enough. Let’s not put additional pressure on ourselves and others in an already tough world. Let’s show ourselves and others more compassion. And besides there is perfection to be found in imperfection and it always offers an opportunity to learn, grow and to live consciously.


NB. As I was writing this piece, I was gifted a book I’ve wanted for some time. The book is titled ‘The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse’ by Charlie Mackesy. Perhaps you’ve read it. As I was reading it, I saw this quote by Charlie Mackesy “The greatest illusion” said the mole “Is that life should be perfect.” I chuckled to myself, as this describes perfection brilliantly (I was going to say perfectly!).



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