Top 11 Signs That You Are a Perfectionist

This article series is available for download as a free PDF ebook. Click on the button below to download.

This is part 1 of my 3-part series on perfectionism: why being a perfectionist has its problems, the downsides of perfectionism, and how to overcome these downsides.


(Image: Personal Excellence; Background: juliana luz )

Are you a perfectionist? Do you often seek to achieve a perfect standard in your work? Do you feel a need to perfect every single thing you do, even at the expense of your health and well-being?

A perfectionist is a person who refuses to accept any standard short of perfection. In psychology, perfectionism is a personality trait characterized by “a person’s striving for flawlessness and setting excessively high performance standards, accompanied by overly critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others’ evaluations.”[1] To a perfectionist, anything that’s less than perfect is unacceptable.

Are You a Perfectionist?

To help you assess your level of perfectionism, here are 11 signs of a perfectionist I’ve identified:

  1. There is no room for mistakes. Whenever you see an error, you’re the first to jump on it and correct it.
  2. You have a very specific manner in which things should be done. Many times, people don’t get you because you’re so specific about how things get done. As long as something is out of place or doesn’t conform to your approach, it’ll not be acceptable. Because of that, you often find it very hard to find the right people to work with; some may find it hard to work with you altogether.
  3. You have an all-or-nothing approach. It’s either you do everything well, or you don’t do it at all. Everything in between is a no-go.
  4. It’s all about the end result. You don’t care what happens in between or what it takes to achieve the goal. You just want to ensure that the end result is attained; otherwise you’d feel annoyed, devastated.
  5. You are extremely hard on yourself. Whenever something goes wrong, you become really hard on yourself. It doesn’t matter if it’s due to your fault or just one small thing — you’re always quick to beat yourself up and feel extremely bad about a mistake for a long, long while.
  6. You become depressed when you don’t achieve your goals. You often mull over outcomes that don’t turn out as envisioned. You keep wondering “What if?” Most importantly, you feel that everything must be your fault if you don’t achieve that perfect, desired standard (see #5).
  7. You have extremely high standards. Whatever you set your mind to do, you will have high targets. Sometimes, these targets stress you endlessly. You may end up breaking a neck just to reach them. At one point, you become held back by these standards as you procrastinate and stop working on your goals out of fear that you can’t reach them.
  8. Success is never enough. Whatever you do, there’s always a greater height to aim for. Even when you achieve X, you want 2X. Even when you achieve 2X, you want 5X. Beyond this desire for betterment, many times you’re just not happy if you don’t go for a higher, bigger goal. You are rarely content with status quo and you keep wanting to see more and better things.
  9. You procrastinate just to do something at the “right” moment. You are constantly waiting for the “right” moment to work on your goals. You only want to start when you are “ready” so as to deliver your best quality of work. However, this state of “readiness” never seems to come sometimes. Sometimes, it never comes as you perpetually wait just to get something done.
  10. You constantly spot mistakes when others don’t see any. While this can simply mean that you’re just very detail-oriented, perfectionists often spot mistakes, issues, from a mile away. Sometimes these mistakes are real. Sometimes they seem self-imagined.
  11. You often spend copious amounts of time just to perfect something. Perfection is the end goal. It’s not uncommon for you to sacrifice your sleep, personal time, and well-being, just to bring your work to the highest level. To you, it is all part of achieving your goal.

Can you relate with any of the traits above? Out of the 11 traits above, how many apply to you?

My Experience with Perfectionism

I used to be a highly neurotic perfectionist. In fact, there was a time when all 11 traits fit me to a tee! I’m still a heavy perfectionist today, though I’ve learned to dial down the negative parts of my perfectionism. You’ll learn more about them in part 2.

A big part of my perfectionism is because I’m passionate about giving my best to everything I do. I think when we set ourselves to do something, we should do our best without compromising or giving excuses.

A second reason is how I was brought up. I was raised in a culture where success is extolled, and failure, punished. People are celebrated for being the best and you are shamed upon if you are mediocre. Not only that, back in my primary school, we were taught to follow idiosyncratic guidelines like only being allowed to wear plain, single-colored watches that were black, grey, white, or blue; or that girls should not have any strand of hair that touched or covered any part of the face. Hair bands or hair ties, if used, should be single-colored as well and only one of the same four colors (black, grey, white, or blue) was allowed. These “rules” were questionable in terms of how they helped us become better human beings. Non-conformance would result in you being shamed, scolded in front of a crowd, or for guys, being caned.

This combined with a very high innate sensitivity made me super meticulous about every single thing I do. This meticulousness extends beyond my studies to every area in life.

For example, back when I was making websites as a teen, I was relentless in perfecting every single aspect of my sites. I was constantly editing my graphics and vetting my HTML code just so everything was “perfect.” I would spend hours ensuring that my sites looked great at every resolution and browser while constantly making tiny tweaks like one-pixel changes or things I changed my mind about. I was always very particular about how everything looked and the content I was putting out there, even though I wasn’t paid for this work.

When I was an avid gamer as a child, I was always perfecting my performance in each game I played. As little kids, my brother would criticize me when I executed moves wrongly or if I made mistakes that resulted in the game character’s death. Hence, I learned to be very precise in how I executed each move and in achieving 100% perfection. I fondly remember how I broke all top scores in Crazy Taxi (a racing game) and completed every bonus challenge (there were a lot, and some of them were insanely difficult). I played and replayed King of Fighters 95 for weeks upon weeks, perfected my moves for my favorite characters and attacking strategies depending on the opponent, and won it many times on the hardest difficulty. In total, I’ve completed at least 100 games from RPG to action games to racing games throughout my childhood!

In project groups in school, I often had to take over project work due to teammates lapsing on their deliverables or to improve the overall standard of our project. Even though it was at the expense of my time and sleep, even though I would often end up putting in a lot more work than some teammates, the end result was worth it as we would get the best grade.

Even with my daily work at Personal Excellence, I’m very meticulous about every content I create, everything I put out. For example, with each PE course, I spend many many months creating, editing, and then refining my course materials before putting them out there. Every time I conduct a live course, I would spend another few months improving and upgrading the course based on the participants’ feedback for that run. Every article, podcast, and video is always thoroughly thought through before it gets published. Even then, I’m always tweaking and improving my content every few months. Perhaps this is why many readers appreciate my material and share it on other sites; teachers and professors alike use my material as part of their course curriculum.

Being a perfectionist has helped me achieve very precise standards and become an overachiever in many ways. It has helped me do well in college, perform well in my corporate job, and is probably the reason I excel in many personal goals and projects.

However, as I grew older, I realized that (neurotic) perfectionism has some serious downsides as I’ll share in the next part. Proceed to part 2 of the series: 6 Hidden Downsides of Perfectionism

Get the manifesto version of this article: 11 Signs You Are a Perfectionist [Manifesto]

This is part 1 of my 3-part series on perfectionism: why being a perfectionist has its problems, the downsides of perfectionism, and how to overcome these downsides.