Husnara Begum Head & Shoulders Image

Husnara Begum, associate editor & career coach

If like so many, you were glad to see the back of 2020 and hoping for a ‘perfect’ start to the New Year, living through Lockdown 3.0 is  going to an almighty bitter pill to swallow. But it’s not just in the context of new beginnings that loads of us strive for perfectionism. It can pervade almost all aspects of our personal and professional lives.

In my case, I once used to want it all. The perfect family, the perfect husband, the perfect home, the perfect job, the perfect body, the perfect handbag, the perfect holiday, the perfect night-out and the perfect blah, blah. But wait, that wasn’t all. I also tried desperately hard to be the perfect human – the ‘yes’ person and crowd pleaser – constantly pushing myself to be the perfect daughter, the perfect wife, the perfect employee, and not to mention the perfect host. Sounds exhausting, doesn’t it?

The perfect paradox

Culturally, and in numerous professional settings, we often see perfectionism as a positive. Personally, I’ve gone as far as privately congratulating myself about my perfectionist ways as if it were something to be immensely proud of. Whilst in front of others I’d fish for compliments by shamelessly bragging or joking about it.

Also, let me not forget to mention that having perfectionist tendencies is one of the most overly used stock answers to the dreaded ‘what’s your greatest weakness’ job interview question. In other words, perfectionism is the perfect paradox!

The problem with seeking perfectionism in every aspect of our lives is that none of us are infallible and often it’s the imperfections that are some of our most endearing qualities. Just think back to the classic line in rom-com Bridget Jones’ Diary when Mark Darcy tells Bridget, the perennial singleton famed for her endless mishaps, that he likes her just the way she is.

Perfectionist tendencies linked to burnout

Granted, perfectionists are typically smart high achievers with long lists of accomplishments to boot. But they also pay the price. It is now widely acknowledged that individuals with perfectionist tendencies often struggle with extreme self-criticism, chronic stress and health problems, including anxiety and depression or compulsive disorders. This in turn can result in burnout, particularly in the workplace.

Again, reflecting on my past behaviours, I recall how after a meal I couldn’t wind down until the dishwasher was loaded and all the kitchen worktops were wiped down. Similarly, I remember being unable to leave for work in the mornings until I’d made the bed and tidied up – even if that resulted in me missing my train.

Perfectionism & Self-Limiting Beliefs

Much of our perfectionist tendencies are typically rooted in fear and insecurity, including worries over making mistakes or an aversion to letting others down.

This in turn may lead to self-criticism and self-doubt creeping in, with that pesky little voice in our heads potentially going into over-drive and saying: “You’ll be a success if you get that promotion, and a failure if you don’t”.

I’ve certainly been guilty of black and white thinking and crystal ball gazing as well as catastrophising. For my top tips on how to manage these unhelpful thoughts, check out: How to Challenge Negative Thought Patterns.

Lumpy gravy

After finally acknowledging that my perfectionist tendencies were more of a hindrance than something to be proud of, I gave myself permission to let go and where appropriate to adjust my standards. Also, focussing on ‘impact’ and thinking bigger picture have proven to be extremely valuable in helping me to manage my perfectionist traits.

For instance, when we are eventually allowed to host dinner parties again, ask yourselves – is anyone really going to care about lumpy gravy or the fact your dessert was purchased from M&S? You can either do a couple of hours’ prep or several. and though the quality of what you end up serving may differ, the impact each menu will have on your guests is likely to be negligible. So, why not spend those minutes saved focusing on the really important stuff?

Husnara Begum, associate editor & career coach