#Career 101 : Perfectionism: Secret strength or crippling weakness?

#Career 101 : Perfectionism: Secret strength or crippling weakness?

Why it doesn't pay to be a perfectionist at work and how to overcome it?

13 Jan 2023
#Career 101 : Perfectionism: Secret strength or crippling weakness?

When asked at a job interview, “What do you consider to be your greatest weakness?” you might think it’s a humblebrag to answer with, “Well, I’m a perfectionist.” It shows humility by recognising the downsides of perfectionism (e.g. time-consuming, unrealistic expectations) while also highlighting that you have extremely high standards for your work.

As it turns out, it may be a more serious weakness than you think. Studies have shown that there might be detrimental physical and mental health consequences associated with perfectionism.

A study by the American Psychological Association in 2019 identified three types of perfectionism: self-oriented, socially prescribed, and other-oriented perfectionism. Self-oriented perfectionism is directed towards oneself, while other-oriented perfectionism is directed towards the people around you such as your colleagues or family. Socially-prescribed perfectionism is when individuals believe they have to be perfect for the approval of the people around them. You may also not be aware that you’re a perfectionist or exhibiting perfectionistic behaviour if you’re constantly being hard on yourself and the work you produce.

Continue reading to find out more about this trait and how you can overcome it.

Pros of being a perfectionist

Attention to detail

A perfectionist often pays very close attention to the little details, and may catch mistakes that other people miss. In some professions, this trait is valuable and necessary for their work.

High standard of work

The attention to detail, and the striving for excellent and “perfect” work might result in a much higher quality of work than others. A perfectionist may also demand the same level of quality from the people around them.

Problems associated with perfectionism

Unrealistic expectations

“Perfect” is not actually a realistic goal, and neither is it specific. Setting oneself unreasonable goals to attain perfection may only lead to frustration and disappointment when you or the people around you understandably do not achieve them.


Ironically, procrastination may be a result of having perfectionistic tendencies. At work, this could manifest as postponing tasks and projects because you are worried that you will not be able to complete them perfectly. It may also take you an excessively long time to finish your projects if you are caught up in perfecting every little detail.

Burnout and mental health issues

The constant obsession over every detail and the need to be perfect may eventually cause burnout. On top of that, when you are always feeling like you are not meeting your own impossible standards of perfection, it may cause you to feel inadequate and spiral into depression and anxiety. Harsh self-criticism often accompanies perfectionists, which negatively affects their perception of self-worth and value.

How can I overcome perfectionism?

Set realistic goals

When faced with a task or a project, it may be more productive to outline exactly what needs to get done and proceed to break down the main task into smaller, more manageable actions. In this way you can focus on making progress and completing each action. Remember the 80-20 Rule—also known as the Pareto Principle—a theory suggesting that 80% of outcomes come from 20% of causes. Hone in on the 20% that can bring you 80% of the results.

Set hard deadlines

To counter the problem of procrastination that is common with perfectionists, setting a hard deadline might help, especially if it’s a task that has no concrete deadline such as hobbies or passion projects. Once you’ve set realistic goals for yourself on what has to be achieved and break those goals down into small manageable tasks, setting deadlines can motivate you to keep you on track to completing those tasks in a timely manner.

You may have heard of the adage, “work expands to fill the time allotted for its completion”, also known as Parkinson’s Law. By fixing a set period of time for you to complete each task, it may prevent the paralysing feeling of needing everything to be perfect before you can move on to the next step. Done is better than perfect.

Practice compassion for yourself and others

Once you’ve accepted that perfection is unrealistic and unreasonable, you can work on quieting the self-criticising and judgemental voice in your head that expects such an impossibly high standard. Be compassionate to yourself and acknowledge that you’ve done the best you can. Extend this compassion to the people around you too, and recognise the effort put into the work rather than the outcome.

Finding a balance

Like many other traits, there are good and bad sides to perfectionism. The most important thing is to stay flexible and find a balance, so that you can maximise the positive aspects while mitigating the negative sides of perfectionism. In most cases, you may find that perfection is not only impossible, but also unnecessary. Accepting this will free up a lot of stress and energy in your life. 

Find out what kind of perfectionist are you and how to manage yourself and your expectations!

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