Perfectionist – 10 ways to tell if you are one

You are currently reading part 1 of a 3-parter series on why being a perfectionist isn’t so perfect and how we should deal with it.

A perfectionist is someone who holds the underlying belief that perfection can be attained and it should be. Many people in our world today are perfectionists or have been perfectionists at some point in our lives. In fact, if you are reading this article, you are probably a perfectionist to a certain degree.

You can usually spot a perfectionist a mile away, simply because of the extremist behaviour that is exhibited. Below are some of the common threads in their actions or thoughts:

A perfectionist is highly conscious and hyper-critical of any signs of mistakes. He/she has an extremely sharp eye towards details
A perfectionist aims to be the best in everything he or she does, even if it is something that he or she is not interested in.
A perfectionist often spends copious amount of time, right down to the last moment, to perfect something. He or she would rather sacrifice on a personal level (such as sleep, eating time, etc) than let something be less than it can be
A perfectionist sets absolute ideals on things in life. There is only black and white, no grey.
A perfectionist is the harshest critic of himself/herself. He/she would beat themselves up over the smallest thing that went wrong, to the extent of being neurotic.
A perfectionist mulls over outcomes if they did not turn out as envisioned
A perfectionist is defensive towards criticism and has a fear of failure because it suggests something he/she did was not perfect.
A perfectionist only has the end goal in mind. If he/she does not achieve the goal, it really does not matter what happens in the process
A perfectionist has an all-or-nothing approach. If the situation does not allow him/her to achieve the standard he/she laid out, he/she will abandon the task because it does not make sense to spend time on something that he/she is not going to conquer
A perfectionist is very self-conscious about any situation which might give others the perception he/she is not perfect.
Does any of this sound familiar to you?

My experience with perfectionism
I used to be quite a neurotic perfectionist when I was younger, because of my passion towards becoming the best that I can be. All of the 10 traits you just read above applied me to a tee. My motif in life was (still is) ‘As long as you set your mind and heart to it, nothing is impossible in this world’. Whenever there was any flaw or mistake that came in my sight, such as grammatical or spelling errors, typos, etc, I would flinch. I was always the harshest critic of myself.

When I started developing websites as a teenager, I would spend late nights, sleeping just 1-2 hours some days, tweaking my sites to perfection, from the content, graphics, right up to the syntax itself. My sites had to look perfect on all different browsers and resolutions. The works I produce had to be the best conceivable. It was a unbendable, personal standard I set for myself.

When I was in university, I usually ended up taking over everything in project work because I wanted everything to match up to the idealized state I envisioned. I spent a lot of time perfecting tasks, right down to the little nitty gritty. If it was a presentation, everything had to be synchronized to a common look and theme, right down to matching font types, font sizes, colours. If it was a report, all the content, flow and formatting had to be seamless. There was hardly a time to stop doing work because it seemed that they could always be improved upon.

Whenever things did not go the way I wanted, I would overcompensate it by targetting a higher bar the next time round. Whenever I hear people making statements like ‘humans are not perfect’ or ‘to err is human’, I would cringe. To me, that was just trying to find an excuse to make mistakes. My philosophy was that perfection was possible and as long as we put in all our effort and energy, we would achieve it. If we did not, it simply meant we did not try hard enough.

It was later on in life that I found that perfectionism was being a disabler, not an enabler, in my life, as you will find in part-2 of the series.

What leads to perfectionism?
In general, there are three underlying motivations for perfectionism. Perfectionism may result due to either one or combination of any of the three reasons.

1. Fierce desire for growth
They expect perfection of themselves. Their perfectionism is the result of an unsatiable thirst and desire for growth and to be the best that one can be. To come anything short would be not to live up to one’s true potential, which defeats the purpose in living.

2. Social expectations
Their perfectionism comes about because it is socially expected of them. Family, teachers, coaches, managers and leaders with authoritarian, dictatorial styles induce perfectionism by drawing a high standard of benchmark we need to reach and reciprocrating failure with forms of punishment. Failing is equated to being worthless. Schools and workplaces with a fierce culture of competition and strong emphasis on performance and achievement are common breeding grounds for perfectionism. Society and media perpetuate untainted, flawless, virtual, perfect end states which are subsequently brought to life in the form of imagery, verbal and sensory cues in advertising, marketing and idol worship. They create the aspiration towards unrealistic ideals and instill the belief that such ideals are in fact achievable.

3. Sense of insecurity
For some people, perfectionism may arise out of insecurity of one’s own worth. People who have faced discrimination of sorts or sidelined since young develop a sense of inadequancy or void in themselves. This abyss in turn manifests the desire or need to overtly prove themselves through their actions and accomplishments. They desire to make a statement about themselves, whether for themselves or other people around them.

To you, the reader – Are you a perfectionist? What drives you to be one?

This is part-1 of a 3-parter series on why being a perfectionist isn’t so perfect and how we should deal with it.

Part 1: 10 Ways To Tell If You Are A Perfectionist
Part 2: 6 Reasons Why Being a Perfectionist Leads You to Failure
Part 3: 8 Steps To Turn Your Perfectionist Alter-Ego Into Your Ally