Child drawing on a piece of paper with a worried and focused look on her face

This Is How Perfectionism Can Paralyze You

You just typed the last sentence of the article you’re writing and you’re done. You’ve done hours of research, read through many materials and revised it at least 5 times. But something seems off. It feels as if this is not your best work. Maybe you should take some time and look through it again. Then, you’ll be able to figure out what’s wrong with it and finish it up properly. But time doesn’t seem to do you a favour. The feeling of inadequacy with something you worked hard on and poured your soul into persists. You couldn’t bring yourself to email the final draft of this as you perceive it to be incomplete work. So you let all your hard work sit there on your desktop forever, because you’d rather let your effort go to waste instead of sending in something imperfect.


Sound familiar? 


Perfectionism. While the word might beam with pride as it conveys the message of relentless hard work until something achieves its highest quality, the downsides of it are often ignored. Even in interviews, it is the go-to answer when your interviewer asks about your weakness. Because who wouldn’t want an employee who would always do their best work? But the question many fail to ask is, ‘Perfectionism at the expense of what?’.


In recent research that looked into perfectionism, we learned that recent generations of young people perceive that others are more demanding of them. They are also more demanding of others. Worse still, they are more demanding of themselves as compared to people in the past three decades. Many point towards the rising usage of social media among the younger generation as a reason why perfectionism is rising. In a way, social media creates pressure for its users to constantly perfect themselves in relation to the posts of others through upward social comparison. Before we can agree on why perfectionism is detrimental, we need to understand how it can paralyze us and be an obstacle to our pursuit of excelling in our craft.


1. It makes you fear failure.

Child drawing on a piece of paper with a worried and focused look on her face

Failure is something unpleasant that all of us inevitably have to face at multiple points of our lives. But, the fear of failure is an entirely different thing. Fear of failure is something you’d experience even before you fail. You’d be convinced all of hell would certainly break loose if you even attempt something, or because you just know that you don’t have what it takes to excel at it. While this is something we might experience from time to time, our pursuit of perfectionism exacerbates fear of failure. This is because when you exhibit the desire to achieve perfectionism while producing your craft, it is more probable for you to be highly critical of your own work. This in turn convinces you of the higher chances of the outcomes not being successful. You can find out more about how fear of failure can stunt your creative growth here


2. It makes you miss out on important lessons.

Woman working on her craft

It doesn’t stop there. When it occurs repeatedly, you will experience more fear of failure and convince yourself of your inability to do things flawlessly before you even start new projects. This robs you of not only new opportunities, but also valuable lessons that you can only learn from failure. You might never know a certain speech technique unless it was given to you as advice when you lost in a public speaking competition. The winner doesn’t get the ‘how you can improve’ lectures because they’re considered to be already great at what they do. 


3. It makes you obsess over outcomes

Man focusing on his perfect work on the sewing machine

Perfectionism also influences us to hyperfocus only on the outcomes of our crafts. Take a moment to think about why you began doing what you do—be it writing, pottery making, painting or teaching. Remember when you once realized the happiness you obtained by simply performing these acts. Thus, you wanted to keep doing it for the sake of it. It didn’t matter if you didn’t write the next best award-winning piece, or if you made a vase that looked more like an onion. It didn’t even matter if you couldn’t paint like Picasso.


However, when your craft brought you recognition or money, you lost sight of the initial joy it brought and solely focused on whether it turns out to be a success or a failure. You are no longer joyfully performing them, but rather they have turned into a mundane chore. Thus, you grow hyper-vigilant of every error possible. You morph into your own number one critic. 



The bottom line is—perfectionism isn’t at all what it is glorified to be. Giving our best in all our endeavours is an important mindset to possess. However, overdoing it can turn it into an obsession that will become counterproductive. Thus, it is vital to be mindful of how we are letting perfectionism influence our crafts. When the fear of failure rears its head, reassess what you can potentially gain or lose by never completing the task at hand. It may be one failure the world may never know of. But, it could also potentially be a missed opportunity for you to refine your skill to be a better writer, guitarist or artist.


It is equally important to try our best to employ all the skills we have to ensure a successful outcome and bring us the recognition and money that we deserve. However, always remember why you started doing it in the first place. Give the process as much attention and importance as you give the outcome. That might just add more quality to your craft, too. We have all succumbed to this idea of chasing after what is perceived to be ‘perfect’. Maybe what we all need is just the ability to accept the ‘good enough’s and ‘this is the best I could do’s. 

Psychology student. Writer. Speaker. A bundle of sunshine.

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