Perfectionism: friend or foe?

In my previous role, I used to do a lot of interviewing potential members of staff. One question I avoided asking was ‘what would you say is your greatest weakness?’ as I never found the candidates’ answers very enlightening. It’s one of those questions which people prepare for, and it’s often answered ‘perfectionism’ as they seem to consider that a ‘good’ weakness.

There is nothing wrong with high standards. High standards can keep us focussed and disciplined. They can motivate us to be more and to achieve more. Life is a process of continuous development and improvement and high standards contribute to that process.

However, there is a phenomenon known as ‘maladaptive perfectionism’ – this is when those high standards stop acting as a carrot to motivate and start to act as a stick with which to beat ourselves. In our dynamic society, we can feel under pressure to achieve instant results: a quick internet search reveals ways in which we can learn to drive in a week; learn a new language in a week; learn to ride in a week; learn to code in a week … the list goes on and on.

The potential problem with this is that it doesn’t always work. A maladaptive perfectionist will then feel like a failure,  the result of which is a fear of starting anything new for fear of failing again.

Writer Margaret Atwood said: ‘If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word’ and it seems to me that we could all benefit from taking a similar approach to new skills and experiences.

Margaret Atwood perfectionism typewriter

Today’s pebble for your thoughts: if you stopped waiting to be perfect, what would you start doing?

What do you think?
Michelle

Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching. 

If you’d like to make progress in your work and life, why not email me to see how we can work together?

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2 Responses to Perfectionism: friend or foe?

  1. Juni Desireé says:

    Ooh, I like that analogy of the carrot/stick. That’s a good one to work out the motivations for why I’m doing something. Definitely know what it’s like living with the fear of the stick with that internal critic. But I love the idea of the carrot – it’s more like doing something for love/joy.

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