This is part 1 of my 3-part series on perfectionism and how to make the best out of it.
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.” 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:
- There is no room for mistakes. Whenever you see an error, you’re the first to jump on it and correct it.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 quite a neurotic perfectionist. In fact, there was a time when all 11 traits fit me to a tee! Today, I’m still quite a heavy perfectionist, though I’ve learned to dial down my perfectionist tendencies, particularly the negative parts. You’ll learn more in part 2.
A big part of my perfectionism is due to the fact that I’m very passionate about improving and giving my best to everything I do. I think when we set ourselves to do something, we should give our best to it, without compromises or excuses.
A secondary factor is due to how I was brought up. I was educated in an environment where success is extolled, and failure, punished. People are celebrated for being the best, with mediocrity rarely regarded. Not only that, back in my primary school, we were often taught to follow specific, idiosyncratic guidelines (like only being allowed to wear plain, single-colored watches that are only black, grey, white, or blue in color) which were questionable in terms of how they helped us become better humans. Non-conformance resulted in shaming and heavy punishment.
Because of that, combined with a very high innate sensitivity, I learned to be super meticulous about every single thing I do. This meticulousness extended beyond my studies, to every area in life in general.
For example, back when I was making websites as a hobby, I was relentless in perfecting every single aspect of my sites. I would constantly be editing my graphics and vetting my HTML code just to ensure that everything looked “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 some small realignment that 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, I was always working to perfect each game I played. As little kids playing games, 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 each and every one of the bonus challenges (some of which were downright insane). I played and replayed King of Fighters 95 for weeks upon weeks, perfected my moves for my few 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 full-fledged games, from RPG to action games to racing games, through my childhood!
In project groups in school, I often had to take over project work due to team mates lapsing on their deliverables or to just 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 team mates, the end result was worth it as we would be rewarded with the best grade.
Even with my daily work at PE, 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 spend another few months improving and upgrading the course based on the participants’ reactions from that run. Every article, podcast, and video is always thoroughly thought through before it gets published. Even then, I’m always returning to tweak and improve each content every few months. Perhaps this is why many readers appreciate my material and constantly share it on other sites; teachers and professors alike use my material as part of their course curriculum too.
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 why I excel in many personal goals and projects.
However, as I grew older, I realized that perfectionism has its downsides too, 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: [Manifesto] 11 Signs That You Are a Perfectionist
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