The Perfect Is The Enemy Of The Good

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Striving to do the best you can at every job you undertake seems like a good thing, at least on the surface. After all, the old aphorism seems to be true: Any job worth doing is worth doing right. But when does striving to do your best turn into an unhealthy quest for perfection? And if you’re in an introspective state of mind, you may also ask yourself what drives you in that quest.

A confused young lady

Writing for Huffpost, Ashley Broadwater points out that being labeled a perfectionist is a tricky thing. Without knowing exactly why, a lot of people feel a bit of anxiety about the term. To understand why it causes anxiety and, more important, how to reduce it, Broadwater delves into the three types of perfectionists and offers advice on coping with the tendency.

Self-Oriented Perfectionism. This type of perfectionism is exactly what it sounds like — expecting and even demanding the best from yourself. The problem arises when you’re too hard on yourself — treating yourself in a way you wouldn’t dare treat a friend or loved one. It extends to a feeling that no matter how hard you try, your best just isn’t quite good enough.

To reduce the stress that comes with demanding too much from yourself, Broadwater cites a variety of experts who advise focusing on self-care. An example of self-care in this context might be to look at one area of your life in particular when you’re feeling overwhelmed by everything. Then, reach out to a friend to get some support for that one area.

Other-Oriented Perfectionism. You may have experienced this when another person seems to be judging you, implying or outright stating that you’re not performing in a certain way that meets their expectations. Now, to turn the tables, take a look at yourself: are you judging others or becoming frustrated when they don’t live up to your expectations? This is “other-oriented perfectionism” in action. If you have this attitude and it’s apparent, it can lead to all kinds of issues, including conflict with co-workers or friends and overall emotional dissatisfaction. 

If the person you expect more from is also one whose relationship you value, then it’s up to you to find a way to decrease your need for them to always meet your standards. Broadwater says that creating a gratitude list can help. Simply listing all the good things you like about the person helps you have some perspective about the one area, perhaps, in which they’re not living up to your expectations.

Socially Prescribed Perfectionism. There’s a fine line between earning the approval of others for a job well done, and basing your self worth on what others think of you. People who have issues with socially prescribed perfectionism take the value of other people’s opinions to the extreme.

There are a couple of ways to cope with a tendency toward socially prescribed perfectionism. First, it may not even be true that people are judging you negatively — that may just be your perception. Try to get some objective information from those you think have opinions about your work — do they really have a negative view? In addition, rely on your own judgment of your performance. Be as honest as you can be and you’ll probably find that your accomplishments are commendable. This has the added bonus of being the opinion of someone — yourself — who knows more about your work than anyone else.

See a lengthier discussion of Broadwater’s article here.