We are all driven by different things but the majority, if not all of us, can be placed into one or more of five categories; be perfect, please people, be strong, hurry up, or try hard. The five drivers and their descriptions were defined in 1975 by psychologist and author Taibi Kahler. No one driver is better than any other and you only the driver as much as you agree with the criteria. When it comes to personality type questionnaires, I believe the value is in your interpretation of the result, rather than the result itself.
I am a perfectionist people pleaser, as are the majority of the clients I work with as a Life Coach. Being driven by being perfect and pleasing people and my clients being the same, has given me a unique window into what signs to look out for. It’s by no coincidence I am currently in the process of writing a book on the subject!
In this article, I’ll share with you the five signs you’re driven by perfection, and the challenges each can cause.
You set high standards for yourself and others.
You are always striving for more from yourself, and you want to achieve increasingly higher standards in the work you deliver. If you’re achieving such high standards why isn’t everyone else? Leaving you frustrated when other people seem to fall short of the results, quality, or service you would achieve if you were in their position. Your high standards can put you under ever increasing pressure until one day it dawns you you’re running the risk of setting unobtainable goals or exhausting yourself in an attempt to achieve them. Expecting similar high standards of others can leave you disappointed or at worst angry. No one seems to be making an effort you are making, everyone from the barista at the coffee shop, the receptionist at the hotel, or the company you had to phone earlier this week.
You are dissatisfied with your work, even when it is OK.
So, you’ve aimed for high standards and achieved them, and now you’re dissatisfied with the result. Upon reflecting on the outcome you’ve achieved, you feel you could have done more. Or you may be experiencing every perfectionist’s worst nightmare, you’ve completed a task, action, or goal, and it’s dawned on you there was a better way you could’ve done it. You’ve aimed for perfection, and with your high standards it was arguably unobtainable, so you’re left with OK, and OK is not good enough. When you’re a perfectionist, the interesting thing about OK is your ‘OK’ is probably better than someone else’s ‘amazing’, we rarely consider other people’s expectations of our output. Measuring yourself against yourself and often feeling like you’re falling short and any praise from other’s is rejected, because they don’t know how much better you could’ve done.
You want to get it ‘right’ first time.
I eluded to this in the last point, every perfectionist’s worse nightmare is making a mistake and not getting it right the first time. Leading to many a perfectionist’s Achilles’ heel, procrastination. One of the cores of procrastination is the fear of getting started as we worry we’ll not start the project right and therefore not get the result for which we are aiming. Add to this we’ve set high standards for the result and if our memory serves us well we’re going to be disappointed in ourselves regardless! We tie ourselves into planning how we will tackle the task so we can avoid making any mistakes and this planning takes time, often leaving us little to get the actual task completed. Leading to another sign of perfection, the use of “when … then” phrases, e.g. “when I’ve done … Then I’ll …”, “when I have more time then I’ll get fit”.
Many a perfectionist would happily graffiti any poster emblazoned with the words, “Progress not perfection.”
You want to do things yourself and find it hard to delegate.
Surely it would be easier to get other people to do the work instead? Well, no, because they wouldn’t achieve your high-standards and you have a high level of confidence in what you would achieve were you to complete the tasks, and you can’t put into words exactly what that is. If you could put it into words, you fear they would think you were insane and going way overboard in what you were aiming to achieve in comparison to what is needed. Often perfectionists have a sense of what is needed to complete a task and achieve the result but it’s more than something you can write in a plan, it’s a feeling. On the occasions you do achieve perfection, and it happens, it is less the result measured against the objective, and more you sensing it is right, it’s perfect. Therefore, it is safer and easier to do it yourself, and arguably you would rather be disappointed in yourself than frustrated at others. Further to this is you knowing and others potentially have remarked that you can be ‘picky’. You’d rather avoid this criticism, and this is best done by doing it yourself.
You find it hard to take criticism.
While you will often neglect to take praise, pushing it aside and instead measuring the outcome against your expectations, you will readily listen and take on board criticism, and it hurts. You set out to achieve high standards and to get the best outcome; you decided not to risk letting anyone else do anything instead of choosing to do it yourself, and you have worked hard. It is extremely difficult when someone is perceived or is actively criticising your work. You can know you’re risking not achieving perfection but someone else calling you out on this is like a knife in the chest, literally taking it to heart. You feared disappointing someone, and now they’ve confirmed you have. Counter this that some perfectionists may slide the dagger from their chest and turn it on their critic and defend themselves. While it is healthy to stand your ground, you are haemorrhaging and are not in the best position to start trying to make a case for the work you have completed. Regardless of how you take the criticism, it often lingers long after the event has passed.
As for your thoughts on the critic, like an elephant, a perfectionist never forgets!
Being driven to be perfect has its challenges, and your awareness of these can become your greatest asset, not to forget that perfection brings with it a whole host of fantastic strengths, but I’ll save those for another article, or the book.