Friday, December 8, 2023

Why perfection is an enemy?

“I am a perfectionist”, replied the intelligent candidate in response to astute interview question, “what is your weakness?”. How many times we reply in similar way? Probably, most of the times. Perfectionism is gifted trait but is so immaculate, so flawless that it is identified with huge negative connotation.

Are we perfectionist? Have we ever realized that perfectionism can be our greatest enemy? Have we realized that strive of being perfect takes huge toll on our life and relationships?

Adaptive perfectionism is good to some extent where we are adaptable to our surroundings. The more critical and dangerous is the non-adaptive perfectionism which is hard, rude and brash and is oblivious to the environment.

Nobody is perfect in this world. The beauty of our world lies in its imperfection and randomness. Let’s appreciate that.

On the contrary, as a perfectionist we live in our own “perfect” world. We have two prominent sides of perfectionism; one side is to set relatively much higher standards for ourselves. The second deleterious side is to suffer with self doubts, self inflicted pressure of being perfect in every sphere of life.

In extreme cases this transforms into disease, a serious behavioral disorder like OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) and anxiety. This mental state also gradually takes toll on our body.

I stumbled upon a study by Dr. Prem S. Fry, Ph.D., research professor at Trinity Western University on perfectionism. It was startling to know from his research that those with high perfectionism scores ran a 51% increased risk of earlier death as compared to participants who had low perfectionism scores. “Perfectionism is a virtue to be extolled definitely,” says Dr. Fry, “But beyond a certain threshold, it backfires and becomes an impediment.” The “impediment” is the critical drawback concerning extreme perfectionists.

Identify the “perfectionist” by following signals:

1. Set much higher standards for themselves:

Contrary to our capabilities, we set extremely higher standards for ourselves. We struggle to raise to those standards and end up being short of attaining them. This further raises our stress level.

2. Struggle to meet the timelines:

We struggle to meet the timelines in our quest to be perfect. It’s always “perfect or nothing” for us. We forever carry pending work and rue consistently for not getting time to finish it off. There is grievous issue of prioritizing with us.

3. Find hard to accept others’ point of views:

We are so engrossed and convinced with our thoughts that it’s hard for us to accept others’ point of view; or we accept it with a pinch of salt. Our standards are obviously higher and close to ideal in the given circumstances.

4. Bad delegators:

As professionals, we are bad delegators. To complete the job with perfection, we tend to do everything ourselves, in turn getting overburdened with work.

5. Focus on negative:

We don’t appreciate the 98% of success rather rues on 2% of failure. We push upon the same on our colleagues and team. Strive for perfection snatches the happiness of small achievements from us.

6. Doubt on actions:

We are so abrasive in scrutinizing our own actions that it’s difficult for us to take decisions. We chose “perfection” over “speed”.

7. Unrealistic expectations:

We have unrealistic expectations from people around us. We tend to plant our own standards in the minds of other people, thus causing pain, mistrust, and frustration in them.

Like any other obsessive disorder, the primary need is to accept the shortcomings. The flaw, unless identified, can’t be worked upon. I have seen many individuals identifying themselves as “recovering perfectionists” and there is nothing wrong in accepting the fact.

Actions to overcome perfectionism:

The following conscious efforts certainly will be smaller steps towards recovery; and modest successes will motivate we further for improvement.

1. Forgive ourselves for our defects:

Nobody is perfect in every sphere, that’s why the members in “team” complements each other. Our shortcomings remind us of being human. It’s punishing ourselves and our well-wishers by pushing the cause of perfection too far. Magnifying our shortcomings and ruthless self-scrutiny will take we nowhere.

2. Filter out essentials from nonessentials:

Every issue doesn’t need our attention. We need to focus on what is required and put our energy behind it. It’s better to gain excellence in one task at a time rather than shooting for perfection in multiple tasks.

3. See the beauty of teamwork:

“No one is better than all of us” is the mantra for team work. We must work on our strengths to contribute. Let other members pitch in to overcome our shortcomings. Giving ears and mind to others’ thoughts is great healer.

4. Excellence vs perfection:

Understanding excellence and perfection is important. Excellence is not binary, not black and white unlike perfection. Excellence is our desire to give best at all the times. Perfection is nervous response out of fear of being imperfect. Excellence gives sense of achievement of 98% and strives for 100%. Perfection repents for shortcoming of 2% and loses drive and motivation to attain 100%. Let’s go for excellence not perfection.

5. Be rational:

We must accept and recognize the reality. We are not living in perfect world. Being rational in expecting from ourselves and people around us is the key to happiness. I reiterate; go for excellence.

6. Learn to fail:

Edison learnt to fail consistently during invention of light bulb. He learnt 200 ways by which he couldn’t make light bulb. As aptly said “failure is the steppingstone for success”. It’s difficult, but not impossible to accept mistakes gracefully in front of others. Nobody is perfect but many are blessed with gift of excellence.

7. Fail fast:

Life is a high-risk-high-gain game with learning curve whose cost of failure is proportional to the timing of failure. Faster we fail, faster we learn. We will avoid costly mistakes at the later part of the project.

8. Take it easy on ourselves:

Nothing will stop by our brief absence. Let’s take moments out from our busy life to rejuvenate. Let’s not overstretch and pursue our hobbies. Believe me; we will grossly enjoy the imperfection and randomness around us.

There are numerous critical actions, small steps towards excellence. This world is too imperfect to worry for. Imperfections also have a perfect pattern of symmetry. The scheme of things by God is away from our tangible perceptions. The Almighty is perfect and we are mortals of imperfection.

Let’s give ourselves a chance now… not to wait for the “perfect time”; as it will never come.

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Hardeep is an entrepreneur, marketer, blogger, an ardent reader and avid writer. He expresses his unbiased views especially on the matters of Business, Tech & Life through this blog. He can be reached at


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