The Cost of Perfectionism

To be clear, this is not an article about having it all. Instead this is an article about the cost of perfectionism - and having it all and perfectionism are two very different realities - and in fact perfectionism is one of the biggest hurdles in your journey to having it all! Instead, this is an article about how perfectionism can be detrimental to your organisation and your role. But perhaps more relevant to you, perfectionism is damaging your career and your relationships.

The cost of perfectionism is far too great for women - we need to learn another strategy

Some of you know that I also have a passion for yoga and teaching yoga. In yoga philosophy perfectionism is seen as a form of violence (ahimsa) - both towards yourself and others, and we need to work on letting it go and "getting messy on the mat".  But unless you carry that awareness with you off the yoga mat and into your daily life, its very hard to keep a lid on it. 

We're constantly bombarded with messages on striving to be better, look better and have more.  In fact, I've got a line I like to use - you might have heard me say it before:

We strive for a perfect house, perfect kids, perfect career PLUS we wear ourselves out in the gym because we want to look good naked ......... No wonder we’re all exhausted!

So what does the cost of perfectionism mean? Well I tend to lump perfectionism right up there with procrastination and working too hard.  While most people know that procrastination is not a good thing, most of us assume that hard work and perfectionism are great tactics.  I tend to put them in the same bucket especially as they frequently go hand in hand.

A couple of years ago Dr Jason Fox mused hilariously about "procrastifectionism" and oh, how it resonated.  The state of inertia caused by procrastinating AND being a perfectionist can bring you to your knees and is not limited to women.

And if you read my article of two weeks ago you'll see why I don't consider working hard to be something to be admired. In fact, in my opinion hard work is one of the greatest myths perpetuated on women at work. It not only wears us out and keeps us busy playing small, but it's flawed and side tracks us from innovating, tackling BHAGs or taking up opportunities that might be presented to us in addition to our regular schedule - to name just a few.

In fact, I’m tired of being told we need to continue to work hard at gender equity. I say we need to work smarter - because working hard hasn’t got us very far to date!
— Amanda Blesing

Check out the model below to see how these three behaviours of perfectionism, procrastination and hard work intersect and interact .

The downside of relying on perfectionism as a strategy to get ahead

  • Inertia and time wasted are byproducts of perfectionism and procrastination,
  • Resources blowouts of time, money and energy are byproducts of hard work and perfectionism,
  • A sense of deep unworthiness or not feeling good enough (shame, guilt and fear) are the outcomes of working hard and procrastination. 

You can read more about the costs of perfectionism by psychologist and author, Pavel Somov, Ph.D. on Huffington Post.

Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.

So what might it look like? Four examples to name a few

  • When you have a project deadlines that you miss, because you are still polishing up the details,
  • You have a critical deadline that you actually make but it nearly kills you to meet it, because your perfectionist tendencies got in the way of finding a short cut or a more efficient solution,
  • Your first ever published article takes more than one month to refine - thereby delaying the launch of your business (oh right, that was me!), or
  • When you don't apply for a role that looks great because you only meet 3 of the 5 criteria.

The value of delivering average

Years ago I was challenged by a really smart manager to try and "deliver average" every now and then because it was not just better for my own stress levels but also better for the business unit. It was probably the best advice I've ever received.  It was such a release to finally realise that I wasn't being paid to deliver perfect. I was being paid to deliver a result.

Why deliver a Rolls Royce product when the client has only paid for a Toyota?

In fact I remember being fascinated by a team who loved to deliver excellence in educational design - and yet their clients had only paid for a cheaper solution. In this instance:

  • Perfectionism and striving for excellence were getting in the way of profitability,
  • Not only was this drive for "excellence" costing the organisation to service the client, but it meant there was no room to move when and if a higher quality product was required,
  • Additionally, there was an opportunity cost - because everyone was so busy delivering the "excellence" there was no-one out scouting about for new opportunities, or new development techniques, and staff were worn out all the time because they were on this continual never ending roller coaster ride of over delivering.

Rules of thumb

  • Perfectionism and having it all are two different realities,
  • Perfectionism and results oriented aren't the same either,
  • People promote those who deliver results and get things done, not simply for doing things perfectly,
  • Organisations of the future will require agile problem solvers, rather than those who can execute a procedure perfectly,
  • Perfectionism is exhausting, unproductive, expensive, undermining and causes inertia - where effortless ease, confidence and a bias towards forward momentum, might be far more helpful!
  • The perfectionist runs the risk of finding themselves redundant as new innovative software solutions emerge that can deliver perfect with more precision, far faster and with less cost to the business,
  • Delivering "average", failure practice and the rejection game are some of the tactics I use to get over my perfectionist tendencies - along with meditation, journalling and reframing to keep me flourishing.

Your thoughts?

So where do you see perfectionism getting in the way?  And more importantly, what strategies do you deliver to help you let go of perfectionist tendencies? Comments in the box below. Thanks for sharing.

Vive la révolution! #ambitionrevolution


  •  I am the creator of The Ambition Revolution – the science andart of amping smart and savvy.
  • I mentor busy professionals to ensure they remain strategic, agile and focused on the bigger game.
  • I also work with organisations who are trying to increase the profile of women in leadership, but struggling to do so

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