The True Cost of Perfectionism

Posted By Michelle on Apr 1, 2014 | 0 comments

Are you a perfectionist? Does perfectionism keep you from taking action? Whether it’s fear of failure, fear of criticism, or just plain fear, those of us who struggle with perfectionism live in a self-imposed prison.

Those who know me well have seen this firsthand. I once had a manager who asked me how I could get any work done because my desk was so neat. And then there was a business partner who said, “Michelle, sometimes you just have to let it go and fix it along the way.” And a daughter who says, “So what? Everyone makes mistakes!” Ah, the wisdom of a teenager. Really? So what? Everyone DOES make mistakes! Oh wait, but not me. I can’t.

When I worked as a software developer for a major corporation, managers and team members alike knew that the work I delivered would be top-notch. That’s because my perfectionism tendencies ensured that I tested and re-tested every software application that I wrote, maintained, or implemented for our clients. I prided myself on the high standard of excellence that I brought to the table. And that worked ~ in corporate America during the 1990’s.


Perfectionism Can Trip You Up


A teacher writing 10 out of 10 on a blackboard.But now, as an entrepreneur and business owner, those perfectionist qualities can trip me up if I’m not careful. I can rationalize that I take pride in delivering “error-free” this or “quality” that. I can argue that I have high standards and strive for excellence, but at what cost? If my fear of making even one mistake costs me a missed deadline or a lost customer, then the cost of perfectionism is too high.

With the evolution of the internet and more recently the explosion of social media, the world has become a very transparent place. My signature is everywhere: on Facebook posts, on blogs where I leave a comment, on Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Google+. My head is spinning. What if I inadvertently post something with a misspelled word? Or what if the graphic I upload isn’t the right dimensions? Worse yet, what if I publish an incorrect fact?

So what.


There’s Nowhere to Hide!


I am finding that one of the benefits of social media is that the world is becoming a transparent place. Brands can no longer hide behind their big box and expect their consumers to accept it. I once heard it said that “if you are not transparent, your customers will see right through you.”

The problem, at least for me, is finding the right balance. Losing perfectionism doesn’t mean producing mediocre work. But it does mean I need to stop viewing the world in terms of black-and-white. There are some beautiful shades of gray that will let me blend the quest for excellence with the art of being human. These shades allow me to breathe easier and find freedom.

So here is a symptom-checker for those of you who are wondering whether or not you are a perfectionist:


Perfectionism Symptom-Checker


  1. You re-check, redo, and rewrite.
  2. You procrastinate.
  3. You don’t step outside your comfort zone.
  4. Even you can’t meet your own standards.
  5. Spontaneity is not on your radar.
  6. It takes you 30 minutes to send out a simple e-mail.
  7. You’re afraid to hit the publish/post/re-tweet/pin-it button.
  8. You agonize over the most irrelevant details.
  9. You hear that critical voice in your head saying it’s not good enough.
  10. You easily spot the mistakes of others, whether or not you are trying to.

If you answered “yes” and feel these tendencies are getting in the way of your work, family, and life, then congratulations! You are being honest with yourself and can set some simple goals to help control these tendencies:


Tips to Help Overcome Perfectionism


  1. Figure out how perfectionism hurts you and those around you
  2. Replace the negative self-talk with positive self-affirmation.
  3. Remember that no one is perfect; we all make mistakes.
  4. Quit sweating the small stuff; when you are drowning in the details you lose sight of the big picture
  5. Lower your standards. Too hard? Try compromising.
  6. Set priorities and focus on the most important tasks first.
  7. Just say the word “STOP!” when a negative thought crosses your mind.
  8. Cut others some slack. Focus on what they are doing right instead of finding fault.
  9. Recognize that 100% is as good as it gets. Sometimes 90% is all that it takes.
  10. Loosen up and laugh at yourself! It’s not the end of the world if you make a mistake.

Are you a perfectionist? Go ahead and leave a comment! Tell us how you cope. You’re in good company!

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