Your Own Worst Enemy: 3 Strategies for Overcoming Perfectionism

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We’ve all probably heard the old adage, “Anything worth doing is worth doing right.” But there’s a difference between doing something well and doing something perfectly. For anyone who has ever experienced the paralysis that accompanies perfectionism, you already know how debilitating it can be. However, for those people who still hold dear the notion that perfectionism is something to aspire to, we’ve got some news as to why overcoming perfectionism should be number-one on your to-do list: The pursuit of perfect isn’t just bad for you, it’s bad for business.

You may think that exceptional entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg got where they are by demanding their work be impeccable. But you’d be wrong. Facebook has a sign that hangs in their headquarters, which reads, “Done is better than perfect.”

Perfectionism = Procrastination

“Oh my gosh, my website needs more work. There’s no way I can launch it until I get it just right!” Most of us, at some point, have felt the fear of putting something out into the world before we feel it’s exactly how we want it.

The problem is that the fear of looking stupid in public often keeps people from ever completing a project — or even starting it. One way to avoid feeling incompetent is by never putting something new out into the world for public consumption. If you don’t do it, there’s nothing for other people to critique or criticize — but there’s also an idea inside of you that deserves to be given a chance. Don’t let the fear of a failure keep you from getting the job done.

Perfectionism can ruin your professional relationships.

Back in the day, we probably all had that one friend who openly called herself an idiot for “only” getting a 92 on an exam, whereas you were sitting there with a 79 and had been feeling pretty good about it. Bringing that overachieving attitude into the office can hamper your relationships with coworkers. Those around you might be forced to wonder, “If she thinks her work performance is bad, what does she think of mine? She’s probably judging me in a negative way all the time.” As a result, this also increases the likelihood that your coworkers will be more judgmental toward your work as a defense mechanism.

No matter which field you’re in, the relationships you cultivate along the way will have an effect on your upward trajectory in the workplace. If you insist on perfection to a point where you’re constantly redoing your work as well as the work of others, your coworkers may begin to feel shut out, or be less-than-enthusiastic about being put on projects with you. By overcoming perfectionism and knowing when to let the little things go, you will be accomplishing something far more important — building great relationships that will support and facilitate your advancement in the workplace.

overcoming perfectionism

Perfectionism prevents you from challenging yourself.

Sounds odd, right? Surely if you’re an overachieving perfectionist, you’re challenging yourself all the time. However, some perfectionists have a tendency to avoid endeavors for which they feel they won’t be able to do a “good enough” job. This means that perfectionists may be less likely to take on new challenges.

When a perfectionist stays within their comfort zone, they ultimately limit their own growth. Overcoming perfectionism will help you gain new skills, because you’ll be more willing to start at the bottom and learn from your mistakes. If you’re paralyzed from your fear of making errors, you are likely to miss out on a lot of potential growth opportunities.

Now that we’ve identified how perfectionism can handicap someone, the question is, how do we learn to just let go?

One thing to keep in mind is that humans are surprisingly bad at risk assessment. We have the tendency to see disaster even if there is little evidence that it will occur. One strategy for overcoming perfectionism is to evaluate the realistic consequences of making a mistake.

If you’re an accountant, for example, making a single-digit mistake on a social security number for a client’s tax return can be catastrophic, likely resulting in months and months of additional stress and paperwork, as well as a potential loss in reputation with your clients. On the other hand, clicking “submit” on a last-minute print order for a promotional pamphlet even though you know it has a tiny alignment error is unlikely to have any negative impact at all.

What will happen if your company’s website doesn’t have a perfectly-worded mission statement? Your perfectionism says, “We’ll never be able to build a thriving business because everyone will think we’re inept.” Research, however, suggests that online users don’t read text on websites much at all (only about 20% of the words). A potential investor, partner or client is far more likely to be deterred if your company with no website (because you’re waiting to make it live until it’s PERFECT), versus if you have a website up-and-running but it happens to have some language that could use a little tweaking.

Overcoming perfectionism boils down to overcoming fear. Looking at the situation from someone else’s point of view is one of the best ways to quiet your irrational thoughts. After all, if you’re a perfectionist, you’re probably far more likely to be understanding of other people’s mistakes than you are your own.

The next time you find yourself sweating over finding the perfect shade of violet for your presentation’s pie chart, take a step back and say it out loud with us: “I don’t need it to be perfect. I just want it to be really damn good.”

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