“Practice makes perfect.” This is what we tell children so they develop good work habits and never stop trying. Now that we’re adults and we know that perfection is impossible to attain, I need to tell you something else: perfectionism is dangerous.
Like a gateway drug, perfectionism can open up a Pandora’s box of ills. While constantly searching for “better” and so focused on what “should be,” we can be quick to identify problems and turn a blind eye to the good (and/or good solutions) that may be right under our nose.
Worst of all, we can lack awareness of our own role in these potentially self-sabotaging behaviors (and many others.) A fixation on something as elusive as perfection can pave the way to becoming a person no one wants to be.
Who wants to be a hater? If we’re so preoccupied with getting things “just right,” we’ll constantly compare people, things, relationships, performances, anything, and everything, to some ideal standard. Since nothing and no one is perfect, they will always fall short. And we will stay in our safe and comfy position as the evaluator, the critic, the judge.
You might not even see yourself as hypercritical, but finding flaws is really easy when you put your mind to it. Seek and ye shall find. Pretty soon, just like eating potato chips, once you start, it will be hard to stop.
Who wants to be a slacker? Perfectionists can be great at rationalizing procrastination. We’re not delaying work, we’re just making sure that we’re completely happy with it before hitting “send,” right? And the condiments in the refrigerator, they really do need to be alphabetized before I can start studying! Naturally!
When we can’t get started until things are absolutely perfect or everything takes longer because we’re constantly give 250% to every single step of a process, efficiency and productivity go out the window and paralysis is just around the corner. So, instead of overachieving, we end up overwhelmed and spinning down a shame spiral, fast.
Who wants to be a bigot? The Southern Poverty Law Center is an organization committed to advocating for civil rights and eradicating hate. In one of their pamphlets they identify perfectionism as a trait that is compatible with intolerance. When you assume an absolutist position about what is “right” or do not allow for flexibility or complexity in situations, you run the risk of being judgmental or prejudiced. As harsh as that sounds, it’s real talk.
Who wants to be a loner? When you’re so obsessed with perfection and impossible to please, it’s difficult for others to work with you and/or even connect with you. No one wants to be around a Negative Nancy. In my work with couples, I often ask partners, “Do you want to be right or in a relationship?”
Who wants to be a scaredy cat and/or a control freak? Perfectionist tendencies don’t only mean you’re hard on others, but also yourself. It actually starts with your inner critic. When we are so particular with our standards and intolerant of difference or ambiguity, it’s often an indication of fear of the unknown and a need to control our circumstances.
Children who are perfectionists have been found to be so afraid of failure that they only participate in things that they already have mastery in. They are often very risk-averse and have great difficulty recovering from mistakes. As you can imagine, that kind of mentality limits a child’s (and adult’s) ability to grow and develop into resilient and successful individuals.
So what’s the verdict? Need any more reasons to forget perfect and go for pretty damn good?
At the very least, it seems worthwhile to start paying attention to the dangers of perfectionism.
“Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
Watch your words, for they become actions.
Watch your actions, for they become habits.
Watch your habits, for they become character.
Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”