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are you in pursuit of perfection (btw, I'm not!)


Perfectionism. We talk about it a lot in coaching. Many coaches are perfectionists. And very many of our clients are perfectionists. Some know it and some don't.

What is perfectionism and what does it mean for your career change?

So what exactly is perfectionism?

Perfectionist traits are all aimed towards creating results that are perfect. It can be characterised by a number of different behaviours including:

  • All-or-nothing thinking: This is when you believe that, if it's not perfect, it's a disaster. There is no such thing as "almost perfect" in your view.
  • Critical evaluation: Are you critical of your own performance and do you expect a lot from others as well? Have you ever said "I don't suffer fools gladly" or "I set a high bar and expect if to be met"?
  • Exclusive focus on results: Perfectionists are ALL about the result and consequently they rarely think about or enjoy the journey.
  • Devastated when goals are not met: "Fail and learn" is not a phrase in their lexicon.
  • Defensive: finally, Perfectionists don't really like being criticised and can get a bit defensive when their performance is critiqued.

Do any of these sound familiar?

If so, great. The first step to dealing with perfectionism is to self-identify with your perfectionist traits.

But isn't it good to set stretching goals?

Absolutely. A lot of these perfectionist characteristics will lead to success and excellence in whatever field you choose to work. The difference is what we call "healthy" perfectionism and "maladaptive" perfectionism.

A Healthy Perfectionist will set high goals and high standards. If they fail then they will view this failure as a learning opportunity to adapt their approach and do better next time.

A Maladaptive Perfectionist will tend to set unrealistic goals. Then, when they inevitably fail, rather than learning they tend to do one of two things: either become obsessed with the goal and continue their efforts often to the point of burn-out; or completely avoid that activity for evermore.

And what does that mean in relation to career change?

Perfectionists will tend not to want to commit to doing anything unless they know that they will be able to do it perfectly. This means that they will shy away from anything new. This is clearly not a great backdrop for making any radical or less radical changes in a career that is probably going very well.

So, is there a better way?

As I mentioned earlier, actually recognising these tendencies in yourself is a great start.

Do you think you're a perfectionist? If so, are you healthy or showing some maladaptive tendencies? It may be that you have some of the traits and not others.

I never used to think of myself as a perfectionist. I'm more laid back than that. I actively tailored my A-Level study programme to reach just the grades I needed to get in to university - nothing more, nothing less. But, actually, when I think about how I feel if I've sent an email out with a typo in it - !!!!!!!

So, I think it's useful to think of perfectionist traits on a scale of 1 - 10. 1 is completely laissez-faire and 10 is an out-and-out maladaptive perfectionist. Where are you on this scale? Where would you like to be? What can do differently to get closer to your ideal score?

And, to finish, here are a couple of good coaching questions for you (if you're a perfectionist):

Describe your version of "perfect" and then explore what does "good enough" look like?

What has been the personal cost of your perfectionist traits?

How can you redefine your goals to be more realistic?

Here's to stretching not perfecting...

Remember your "good enough" is someone else's "perfect".

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