Perfectionism (and how to handle it)

A perfectionist? Me? No, not at all! I never regarded myself as a perfectionist, although I always tried my best to perform flawlessly, worked many, many hours and had high performance standards most of the time. I thought that I wasn’t meeting the criteria for being a perfectionist. Why? Some other people performed even better at work, made less mistakes, worked even more hours, had even higher performance standards, or they really could not quit a task before it was perfect. So, being a perfectionist could always be done better, or actually, worse.

In this blog I share my experiences and insights on perfectionism. I will tell you how it was driving my decisions, and also what has helped me to think and act differently. It feels pretty scary to be this vulnerable. That’s still a little perfectionism. Is this blog written well enough? Who am I, to have an opinion about this?

What wins, is the thought that it is okay to be vulnerable, and that I would love to read this story if someone else had written it. I also believe that we can help each other by being more open about the things that make us human. A comment would therefore be really nice. For me and for others. An email or PB is also welcome, if you want to share or ask something less publicly.

The perfect perfectionist

A few years ago, I was feeling completely empty, enormously tired and also quite a mess physically: burnout. I asked for support by a coach. When I told her that I didn’t see myself as a perfectionist, because I decided myself when I wanted to do something perfect and when I thought something was not important enough to do so, I realized something relevant. Not that I wasn’t a perfectionist, but that I was quite perfect in doing things perfectly. In this way I could fully use my energy in the areas where I felt it was needed. Pretty efficient, isn’t it?

Perfectionism: For whom do I act this way?

For a long time, I thought that performing by (and asking for) high standards was something I only did because I like quality and achieving goals (being ‘red’ in many personality tests). I thought I was in control of my thoughts, emotions and behaviour, and just loved my work and the organisation I was responsible for. It took quite some time before I realized that I actually acted that way out of insecurity way more often than I was aware of. Perfectionism helped me to feel valued by others: only by being in charge and capable I would be accepted by others and I could be part of the group.

The invisible judges

As entrepreneur, and being my own boss, I noticed that I was still holding on to a certain benchmark. And when someone else asked me who decided where this benchmark was, I recognized that there was a kind of jury judging my work. In fact, it was an invisible jury, with invisible members and misty standards and values. And these controlled my happiness and satisfaction.

It made me realize that I could choose who would be part of that jury. Since then, it’s me! It’s me deciding when something is good enough, and not all these little voices in my head.

Being addicted?

A little while ago I read a novel about a woman drinking way too much too often. In fact, the writer was a socially accepted alcohol addict, being a good guest at parties. Do you see some parallels with people who work (way to) hard as well? I worked a lot, you could count on me and I was having a lot of fun at work. But work served as a mask as well. And in fact I wasn’t able to work less if I needed or wanted to do so. Being a workaholic is also a socially accepted addiction.

What helped me to let go of that perfectionism?

Bit by bit I could let go of that perfectionism. I am happy to share my tips with you, as they may also help you. What are your tips and trics? Please share them below in a reaction of via email or a PB.

Good enough

Quite the opposite of being a perfectionist is to feel good and valuable just as you are. No matter what. With or without a job, independent of the success of a project or your annual performance review, and unrelated to the number of people that like you. Because you are good enough. I am good enough. We are all good enough. If you want to read more about this topic, have a look at the books by Brené Brown. She also has a TED talk (almost ten million views!).

Being your own supporter of being good enough is not easy. An old way of thinking needs to be replaced by a new, and that takes some time and repetition. That’s why I, practical as I am, had a sticky note at my desk saying “I am ok”. For you something else might be useful: a picture, quote, or an object. Make sure that you pick something that works for you.


Doing a short mindfulness course (and continuing to follow some of the principles) has also helped me a lot. It made me aware that I can decide myself if I listen to my thoughts and if regard them as true. Thoughts most often disappear if you do not pay attention to them. A metaphor is to put every thought on a nice white cloud in a blue sky and see them fly away.

In this way I can make a better distinction between who I am, and who I and others might think I am. (Please note that not paying attention to every thought is something else than pushing them away – that might work counterproductive.)

Feedback and perfectionism

In theory I was open to feedback, as it would help me to further improve whatever I was doing. In reality it was a bit more complicated… Feedback is about your behaviour and not about who you are, they say, but for me it did feel very personal. It really affected me and made me self-doubting.

Today, I am able to see feedback as something that will tell me what part of my behaviour is working (effective) for the other person. So, it is not about me, but about the interaction and that other person. This makes the feedback less personal and more objective. It is about the behaviour that is, or is not, functional for a specific person. And only if I agree I will change my actions.

Fall and rise

That all sounds nice, letting go of perfectionism, and it is indeed a good thing. However, I still have a way to go. Something that has been part of my (your?) personality needs time to be reprogrammed. Luckily, I see more and more often when my perfectionism is in charge and not me. Dealing with perfectionism is something as learning to walk. You fall and rise, fall and rise, and at some point, you can even run 😊

He who stands on his tiptoes does not stand firm; he who stretches his legs does not walk (easily). – Lao Tse

Do you want to read more?

Here you’ll find more blogs about personal development, career and stress (management). You can also follow me on LinkedIn.

Do you have questions about your personal development or career and do you want to learn more about how I can help you with that? Or do you experience burnout or other stress symptoms? Please
contact me to plan an introductory meeting. This 30 minute meeting is without obligations and free of charge. It will give you an impression how we could work on your questions or goals. After this meeting you can decide if you start coaching sessions with me or not.
On my English page you can read more about career coaching and burnout coaching and my way of working.

I’m looking forward to meeting you!

Photo: Alex Block via Unsplash

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