5 Ways Perfectionism Is A Disadvantage

We often hear the term ‘perfectionist’ being used as though it's a virtue, but here are 5 ways perfectionism is a disadvantage.

The Oxford English Dictionary definition of perfectionism is:

“Refusal to accept any standard short of perfection.”

Women have a greater tendency to perfectionism that men. And it’s not a good thing. While it’s great to want to give your best and attain exceptional achievement, setting excessively high-performance standards is exhausting, stressful and leads to increased self-criticism and reduced self-worth. We often hear the term ‘perfectionism’ being used as though it is a virtue, but here are 5 ways perfectionism is a disadvantage.

1. Holds you back from achieving more

Waiting for everything to be perfect means you’ll never find the right time to take that leap. Women in particular, are victims of perfection paralysis. Compared to men, they less frequently ‘put themselves out there’ because they don’t think they have all the credentials yet. Women allow self-doubt to stop them and think they need to be able to tick all the boxes first. Men, on the other hand, don’t allow their doubts to stop them to the same extent as women. Evidence shows that they are more self-assured than women and generally just go for it whether they have the qualifications or not. A few years ago, Hewlett Packard undertook an internal survey after noticing the gender disparity in senior roles. The findings were summarised as:

“Women working at HP applied for a promotion only when they believed they met 100% of the qualifications listed for the job. Men were happy to apply when they thought they could meet 60% of the job requirements”.

2. Increases the fear of failure

If you are constantly holding yourself to a standard of perfection, you will fall short again and again because, of course, none of us are perfect. Perfectionism makes failure a no-go zone. But growth and progress will always be filled with risk and sometimes the nature of that risk is failing. The constraints of perfectionism mean that when you do step out of your comfort zone and fail, self-criticism can hold you back from picking yourself up, dusting yourself off and taking another shot. Perfectionism requires you to be at the destination without ever having taken the journey.

Failure is a necessary route to success. Failure is part of success. There is so much to learn from failing. It helps you adjust course, maybe once, maybe twice, maybe a hundred times. But eventually it directs you towards your goal.

The man who brought us electricity, Thomas Alva Edison, had a thousand failed attempts at the light bulb before his idea sparked to life. His take on it? “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”

Woman rock climbing with the sunset behind her

3. Interferes with self-confidence

Is it better to do only one thing exceptionally well or many things very well? Our confidence grows when we learn to do new things that we get better at. One of the best ways to build confidence is by just having a go. Making an effort to partake in something new, something we may not be great at from the start but which we gradually improve at, is a certain way to increase belief in oneself.

Perfectionism can mean that our sense of worth comes from a very limited offering. In striving for perfection, we can be held back from participating in the new and unfamiliar and therefore limit our opportunities to build tenacity and self-assurance. The work of research psychologist Zachary Estes has shown that confidence matters just as much as ability and is a significant contributor to performance outcomes. Lack of confidence and the associated fear of failure can drive that perfection paralysis, the end result of which is inaction.

4. Fuels self-doubt and increases anxiety

When all is said and done, perfectionism boils down to our pre-occupation with how we appear to others. Constantly striving to be flawless is a symptom of low self-esteem. Perfectionists get their sense of self-worth from the approval of others. So, when that approval is not forthcoming, it creates self-doubt and anxiety. A 2018 survey of mental health across all areas of corporate life found that perfectionism was linked to higher levels of self-criticism which in turn is associated with increased levels of anxiety.

5. Leads to procrastination

The perfect moment never comes. There’s no point waiting for life to become less complicated, for fear to lift or for self-doubt to vanish. Because all you’re left with then is lost opportunity. The perfectionist can use these reasons to not take the next step. But in reality, these reasons are buffers against fear, masquerading as legitimate excuses to procrastinate. The truth is there never has been, nor will there ever be, a better time than right now.

If you have anything you want to ask, or if there’s a topic you’d like me to write about just let me know. 

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