5 Ways Perfectionism Is Getting in Your Way

UPDATED: September 20, 2019
PUBLISHED: October 2, 2014
Ways Perfectionism Is Getting in Your Way

Adam was in the last few minutes of what felt like a really successful interview for his dream job when the interviewer asked him to share developmental areas that have appeared on past performance reviews. Without missing a beat, Adam shared that he was “too much of a perfectionist.”

Adam had rehearsed this answer as the perfect way to share a developmental area that the new company would likely see as a positive. But hiring managers know otherwise. This interview answer ranks up there with “I work too hard” or “I just care too much” as a red flag.

Yes, perfectionism is often a badge we wear with pride, but maybe we shouldn’t.

Life and work aren’t perfect. Those who adapt to ambiguity, uncertainty and find progress in spite of it are the truly successfully people that will most likely reach their goals.

Here are five ways that perfectionists get in their own way and ways to overcome:

1. Never starting. Perfectionists want to be sure that the answer, the strategy or the plan will be flawless. They think unless there is certainty, it’s safer never to act. But answering questions like, “What can I do today/this week/this month?” can help create forward movement—and usually aren’t that scary.

2. Being too slow to move. For my book, Make Waves, I researched people who started large-scale changes to make their ideas a reality. I learned most of these people have instincts that value both speed and flexibility. As a perfectionist, learn to have the confidence to start now, knowing you can adjust as you learn more.

3. Procrastinating. In the research for Make Waves, I also discovered that procrastination is very closely linked to perfectionism. Procrastination can mask a lack of confidence or a fear of being wrong or of facing criticism. Think about it: What is making you delay your idea or your goals?

4. Not knowing when good is good enough. We often refer to this habit as “analysis paralysis,” or when we need just a little more information to get the perfect answer. Instead, try using informed intuition—the ability to know when there is enough information to decide and move forward; you’ll find it easier to adapt in new or uncertain situations.

5. Looking for the right answer when there isn’t one. Very few situations in life have a perfect answer or even just one answer. So, become an “incrementalist”—someone who looks for forward progress in the general right direction. There may be 10 paths to reaching your goal, so when one door closes, find another door that will open.

Before you proudly call yourself a perfectionist, know that it’s likely getting in your way. Find the path to progress and a first step. Trust yourself to course-correct as you go. Your real goal probably isn’t to be perfect anyway.

As a link to perfectionism, procrastination has its perils, too. Take a look at why people delay, along with ways to short-circuit the damaging behavior in yourself and others.

Patti Johnson is a career and workplace expert and the CEO of PeopleResults, a change and human resources consulting firm she founded in 2004. Previously, she was a senior executive at Accenture and has been recently featured as an expert in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times,NBC, Money Magazine and Working Mother. Patti is also an instructor for SMU Executive Education and a keynote speaker on “Leading Change.” Her first book, Make Waves: Be the One to Start Change at Work & in Life, hit shelves in May 2014. Visit her website at PattiBJohnson.com.