How Perfectionism Hurts Your Career

That quest for perfection is likely a waste of your time and energy, and striving for "good enough" may be a better goal.

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Curt Rosengren
One of the most common obstacles to success is our own quest for perfection. As a recovering—and oft-relapsing—perfectionist myself, I know all too well the allure of seeking out that elusive 100 percent performance.

If you have perfectionist tendencies, you probably see perfection as a worthy goal. But in reality, it’s quite the opposite. That quest for perfection is actually a waste of your time and energy, and it limits your potential.

Here are four reasons why you should strive for less than perfection in your career:

Perfection seldom exists.

We’re all human. And life as a human is often messy, imperfect, and incomplete. For the most part, perfection doesn’t exist. There’s always something you could have done better. You can always find flaws in your performance and ways you could have improved your results.

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While working with a client who was an extreme perfectionist, I asked, “Do you know what I think your definition of perfection is? What you do, plus one.” He laughed and agreed. The point was that there is always a buffer between whatever he did and what would have been good enough.

Do you really want to waste your time and energy chasing after something that doesn’t exist?

Perfection limits what you can accomplish.

Let’s say, just for the sake of discussion, that perfection is possible in some cases. Odds are good it’s still not in your best interest to focus on attaining it. Why? Because that perfection comes at a cost. The time and energy it takes to get from “good enough” to perfect could be spent on other things. So while perfection sounds appealing in theory, from a practical perspective, it actually limits what you can accomplish.

Expecting perfection sets you up to feel like a failure.

Expecting perfection can also be brutal on your psyche. Not only do you waste your time and energy, but when you inevitably fall short (remember that whole pesky business of being human?), it reinforces negative feelings about yourself. If the only picture of success you have is perfection, then you are on a collision course with failure, whatever you do. And when all you experience is perceived failure, guess how that’s going to make you feel?

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Expecting perfection limits what you’re willing to try.

Not only can that expectation of perfection batter your self-confidence, it also limits what you’re willing to try. When you repeatedly experience the feeling of failure or the stomach-knotting stress of white-knuckling your way to perfection, you start to look at the big stretch goals and say, “What, are you stupid? I’m not going there!”

Stretching yourself is a recipe for imperfection. Mistakes and failure are an inevitable part of growing into something bigger. And the more painful that imperfection is for you, the less likely you will be to attempt anything where success (that is, 100 percent perfection) can’t be reasonably expected.

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I’m not suggesting that you check your desire to do things well at the door and embrace a life of mediocrity. Should you strive for quality? Absolutely! Should you aim to give it your best? Yes! Should you look at what you could have done better and learn from it so you can improve? Definitely!

At the same time, remember that perfection is seldom a realistic goal, and that it often gets in the way of achieving the big picture. Figure out what “good enough” is, and be happy with that. Let go of the unnecessary and unproductive pressure of perfectionism and see what potential opens up.

After years as a professional malcontent, Curt Rosengren discovered the power of passion. As speaker, author, and coach, Rosengren helps people create careers that energize and inspire them. His book, 101 Ways to Get Wild About, and his E-book, The Occupational Adventure Guide, offer people tools for turning dreams into reality. Rosengren's blog, The M.A.P. Maker, explores how to craft a life of meaning, abundance, and passion.