Perfectly Miserable – The Pitfalls of Perfectionism

ImageI LOVE auto-correct on texts. Not my own…other people’s. And not because I think perfect spelling and grammar is important (that’s a lie, I do), but because the results are hilarious:

 

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Ah I love it. But on to serious things now.

Perfectionism, in certain degrees and certain circumstances, is something you want. Struggle as we might to be perfect though, we just never manage to attain this lofty goal. This isn’t to say that working hard has little value. Doing your best is one thing – trying to be perfect is a whole other mess.

When we analyzed the responses of 1,206 people who took our online Perfectionism Test, we divided our sample into three groups: Extreme Perfectionists, Moderate Perfectionists, and Low Perfectionists. Our study results reveal that while the determined efforts of Extreme and Moderate Perfectionists do pay off in some cases, Low Perfectionists appear to be happier and better adjusted overall.

Here are some highlights:

In terms of academic performance:

  • 30% of Extreme Perfectionists had straight A’s in school, 42% had good grades (mix of A’s and B’s), and 28% had average grades.
  • 27% of Moderate Perfectionists had straight A’s in school, 44% had good grades (mix of A’s and B’s), and 30% had average grades.
  • 21% of Low Perfectionists had straight A’s in school, 39% had good grades (mix of A’s and B’s), and 40% had average grades.

In terms of work performance:

  • 43% of Extreme Perfectionists had a good work performance rating, 43% were satisfactory, and 13% were poor.
  • 44% of Moderate Perfectionists had a good work performance rating, 47% were satisfactory, and 9% were poor.
  • 51% of Low Perfectionists had a good performance rating, 44% were satisfactory, and 5% were poor.

When dealing with set-backs:

  • 92% of Extreme Perfectionists are hard on themselves when they fail, compared to 77% of Moderate Perfectionists and 39% of Low Perfectionists.

When reacting to time limits:

  • 67% of Extreme Perfectionists have missed a deadline at work because they felt a project wasn’t perfect enough to hand in yet, compared to 53% of Moderate Perfectionists and 46% of Low Perfectionists.

In terms of social, personal, and psychological well-being:

  • 19% of Extreme Perfectionists rated their self-esteem as high, 42% rated it as moderate, and 39% rated it as low.
  • 26% of Moderate Perfectionists rated their self-esteem as high, 50% rated it as moderate, and 24% rated it as low.
  • 50% of Low Perfectionists rated their self-esteem as high, 41% rated it as moderate, and 9% rated it as low.
  • 75% of Extreme Perfectionists are afraid of being criticized by their family if they are not perfect, compared to 37% of Moderate Perfectionists and 10% of Low Perfectionists.
  • 50% of Extreme Perfectionists believe that other people’s opinion of them is more important than their own view of themselves, compared to 33% of Moderate Perfectionists and 13% of Low Perfectionists.
  • 41% of Extreme Perfectionists have consulted a professional for stress-related problems. Only 29% of Moderate Perfectionists and 23% of Low Perfectionists did so.
  • 34% of Extreme Perfectionists have been diagnosed with depression, compared to 23% of Moderate Perfectionists and 18% of Low Perfectionists.
  • 28% of Extreme Perfectionists have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, compared to 20% of Moderate Perfectionists and 13% of Low Perfectionists.

The implication here isn’t that working hard and trying your best is pointless or unhealthy. In many cases, perfectionists will produce better quality projects, but it can come at a cost. The bottom line is that while low perfectionists may not always be the top performers, they don’t fear failure, they learn from but don’t make a big deal of mistakes, and they don’t make being the best their top priority. And as a result, they are happy with themselves and have better self-esteem.

So while I would still advise that people strive to do their best in whatever endeavor they take on, I also suggest moderation. Perfection may seem like a noble goal, but when extreme, it becomes a hindrance. “Good and on time” is better than “perfect but late”. Set high but achievable goals, use errors and failures as lessons learned, and view success as a pleasant by-product of your journey through life – not as your raison d’être.

Insightfully yours,

Queen D

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