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Creating Successful Leaders

Last post’s emphasis was on procrastination, but also touched on how perfectionism comes into play. I figured going more into perfectionist tendencies would be a good idea, as I see it as a negative force in many people’s lives.

Our society greatly emphasizes perfection, or striving toward perfection, so it’s very common for people to feel that they need to do everything without flaw.

The perfectionist thinks in all-or-nothings. If something they do doesn’t live up to perfect standards (which, if you read the previous post, translates to impossible standards), then they believe they are a failure and their efforts were a complete waste. This becomes a vicious cycle: the perfectionist sets unrealistic goals, fails to achieve them, feels that they failed utterly, and becomes discouraged and less confident in their ability to succeed in future endeavors.

Even when a perfectionist does great work, they have trouble seeing it as success, because their work will always appear sub par alongside the unrealistic expectations they set for themselves.

In fact, perfectionism hinders productivity as a result of this mental cycle. Those who set realistic goals are more able to perform because their goals are strategic, manageable, incremental. On the flip side, perfectionists are often so overwhelmed with their need to get everything perfect that they have trouble getting started. Perfectionist paralysis.

A few ways to get past this paralysis are:

1. Breaking down your task into bite-size chunks. Even breaking it up into one component per day works well. If you make a list to coincide with your breakdown, you’ll also have the pleasure of being able to check off accomplishments as you go.

2. Giving yourself some space from your work. This helps you keep the task in perspective. It is only a task, whatever it may be, however important, and you are not the task. Your value as a person is not tied to how well you perform.

3. Providing ample time to nitpick. If you know that you fuss over the details, break your work into two general categories: the “just getting it done and not thinking” work, and the “going back over and obsessively getting it right” work. This way, you’ll be able to move forward without worrying about how perfect it is, since you know you’ll have time to get it great after it’s all thrown together.

4. Knowing when to let it go. At some point, you’re going to need to stop your task and turn it in if it’s an assignment, deliver it if it’s a speech or presentation, or finish it in whichever other way you finish it. It will never be perfect, since nothing is perfect. You must learn to let go and trust you’ve done your best.

If perfectionist traits apply to you, remember: you simply cannot be good at everything. Some people will always be better-suited for particular skills than you. And this is okay! This is okay because your value is not determined by doing things perfectly, and if you tend to think this way, you’ll only continue to feel disappointed in yourself. This is also okay because once you accept your weaknesses, you’ll be able to know your limits, set more reasonable goals, and hone in on the areas in which you thrive.


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