Real Talk: Being a Perfectionist Hinders Your Success and How to Move Past It

How Being a Perfectionist Hinders Success | Little Lost Millennial | Blog

Yep, you read that right: being a perfectionist is actually contributing to your downfall.  There’s nothing wrong with wanting your project(s) to be nothing short of amazing once it’s complete, but spending a lot of your time trying to make it perfect is a step in a dangerous direction.

I’ve mentioned a few times before that I’m a perfectionist.  That’s why the first iteration of Little Lost Millennial didn’t pan out the way I’d planned: I was trying to get it to a state of perfection that doesn’t exist.  It’s also partly why I haven’t posted anything for a while: my perfectionist tendencies got me.

I consider my perfectionism a weakness.  It’s not a terrible, character damaging weakness; but it’s a hindrance.  Many of the projects I work on could probably be completed in half the time it actually took me to finish if I wasn’t so intent on making it perfect. Full disclosure, I almost stopped writing this article because I didn’t believe it was perfect enough!  However, doing that would have for sure brought on a negative feedback loop: I would be angry and disappointed at myself for not completing something; I’d try something different, be unhappy about that, and then do the same thing all over again.

Doing fantastic work brings us success, there’s no doubt about that; but is torturing ourselves to exceed an unreachable standard (a.k.a. perfection) really the answer?  I’ll be real with you right now, the answer is “no”.

Why Does Being a Perfectionist Hinder Your Success

1. You’ll take more time than necessary to get through a project because you keep trying to fix all the little things.

  • I’ve spent too many long, painful nights trying to figure out the correct formula of what would make a project perfect and what little thing could be altered to get to that point.  It was definitely not worth it.  In the end I was tired, cranky, and still unhappy with my work.  Why? Because I still kept finding something wrong with it.
  • Focusing too much on the little things will keep you from paying attention to the bigger things.  Imagine a small dot on the corner of the piece of paper you’re writing down your notes on during a meeting.  You hate that dot: it’s distracting. You want your paper to be pristine, apart from the words you’re writing down on it.  And since you were so focused on the dot, you just missed several important points that were brought up in your meeting. Now you’ll be stressing about those points that you missed too!

2. You’ll lose motivation and end up procrastinating.

  • When you find too many things you’re not happy with on the project you’re trying to complete (even though there’s really nothing wrong with it!), you get to a point where you just want to stop working and abandon it.
  • Just like I stated in the beginning, I almost didn’t finish writing this because I kept thinking there was an abundance of things wrong with it.
  • Feeling this may also cause you to lose motivation to do other things not related to your project.  I know I get this way sometimes. I lack the energy to do anything else because I’ve gotten so tired and discouraged from not being able to perfect the one project that mattered.

3. You’ll come to dislike the work you’re doing, even though it was something you love to do.

  • I’ve experienced this countless of times before.  I lose the enjoyment and drive in something I was really having fun on creating (ie. this article) and it ends up making me grumpy.
  • Also, I got bored with it because all the enjoyment had been taken away and it became a chore.
  • If you keep losing interest in something you like to do, eventually there’ll be nothing left for you to do because nothing satisfies you.

4. You’ll be freaking out because you’re trying to attain perfection, but you’ll never get it.

  • No matter what you do, that “perfect” design/creation does not exist.  You’ll be expending a lot of your energy trying to find something that will never be found.
  • To be fair, your project is most likely already perfect to begin with, you’re just imagining all the wrong in it.
  • I feel this constantly.  I get too focused on trying to make everything look and feel right, but I keep finding something that I believe I should alter, so then I stress about it nonstop.
  • This point ties back in will all the points above: you stress out and end up disliking what you’re doing, lose motivation, and then procrastinate.  It’s a dangerous cycle. And will most likely result in a less than perfect outcome for your project—something you hadn’t wanted to begin with.

How to Stop Being a Perfectionist

OK, I don’t actually think a person can just stop being a perfectionist; because if that was the case, I’d have done it by now.  Would save me a lot of sweat and tears! But there are ways to subdue these tendencies and help you from going into stress overload.

1. Ask a friend or colleague or someone close to you to look over your work and critique it.

  • Sometimes, what we personally consider an imperfection is actually not a flaw, thus we miss the bigger details that could cost us in the end.
  • Another set of eyes will provide us with a fresh perspective.  And it’ll give us insight on how someone else sees our work and how they receive the message we’re trying to send.

2. Stop second guessing yourself.

  • There was a reason you originally chose a certain style or design, what makes it not acceptable now?
  • I agree, sometimes a project will go in a different direction than was originally intended; but if this isn’t the case, don’t fix something that isn’t broken.
  • Did you see someone else’s work that you thought looked better than yours?  That’s OK! That’ll happen. If your work looks fantastic and the others who have already critiqued it said it’s wonderful, you shouldn’t spend any more time to take it apart and re-do it because it doesn’t compare to someone else’s work.  You have your own style, they have theirs.

3. Not all flaws are atrocious.

  • So what if that line is a little crooked?  Sometimes, the crooked line is what actually makes that piece of artwork art.  It can give your project a certain charm.
    • This may not be the case for everything, but if it doesn’t affect the project negatively as a whole, don’t sweat it!

4. Take a break from your project—but don’t abandon it.

  • Sometimes when we’re unhappy with our progress, we want to stop working on our projects altogether.  Why would we spend more of our time completing something that’s not going to look great anyway? But maybe all you need is a little break from it and refresh your mind.
  • Remember when I said that I almost didn’t finish writing this post?  I went to bed and fell asleep thinking that I would just trash it; but when I woke up again, I felt differently about it and decided to give it another shot.  The time I spent away from it actually helped me be more successful in completing what I started.

5. Don’t focus too much on the little things.  The bigger things outweigh the little things.

  • At the root of it, this is really the issue with perfectionists.  We see all the minute details and get distracted by those. If we can learn to ignore the little things that most likely don’t even affect the finished product, then we can put more energy into moving forward and producing more projects.

The desire to have your work be perfect is reasonable.  I can relate because I always want my work to be the epitome of perfection.  I’ve been working on teaching myself to be more relaxed when it comes to the outcome of my work because sweating all the small stuff I shouldn’t have been worried about in the first place isn’t worth all the stress.  I’m sure that a few of my projects would probably have had better results had I stopped working on them while I was ahead.

Circling back to a couple of my points above, spending too much time on the little things and losing motivation will result in your work appearing rushed upon completion.  I’ve had several experiences with this. I didn’t like how I felt about it after because I felt that the end-result was something that was only sub-par. And being the perfectionist that I am, I beat myself up about it for several days afterwards.

Final advice, if your instincts tell you that there’s nothing wrong with your work, listen to it.  A lot of the time, the imperfections we see in our work is just in our own imagination. If you’re really unsure, ask yourself what else you can do to fix it.  If you don’t have an answer to that question, then it’s possible that you’ve already completed your work to the best version it can be.

Are you a perfectionist or know someone that is?  Share this with them and maybe you’ll end up saving a project from the land of no return!  Also, if you have your own ways of combating the tendency to be a perfectionist, let me know in the comments below!

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