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Jim's Gems: Perfectionism vs. High-Achievement

April 23, 2012
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Most quality professionals don’t focus on being just good, but being perfect. Is that you? If you’ve ever wondered whether or not you’re a perfectionist, there’s a good chance you are one, at least to a degree. Perfectionists are a lot like high-achievers, but with some key differences. These differences are important, as perfectionists tend to experience more stress, more disappointment and less success.

What is so bad about being good? Nothing at all. But trying to be perfect can cost you a lot in terms of mental health, harmonious relationships and job advancement. You see, people who can mobilize themselves in the face of tough problems are usually people who tend to be high-achievers and who don't worry about being perfect. They are happy to move ahead with a partial solution, trusting that they will invent, or discover, the rest as they go along.

Perfectionists are far more critical of themselves and of others than are high-achievers. While high- achievers take pride in their accomplishments and tend to be supportive of others, perfectionists tend to spot tiny mistakes and imperfections in their work and in themselves, as well as in others and their work. They hone in on these imperfections and have trouble seeing anything else and they’re more judgmental and hard on themselves and on others when failure does occur.

Perfectionists will try to tell you that their relentless standards drive them to levels of productivity and excellence that they could not otherwise attain. But often just the opposite is true. Perfectionists typically accomplish less, because they waste so much time paralyzed by needing an overwhelming amount of data because of the fear of failure. They tend to not start anything until they know how to finish it without any mishaps, and that is a critical mistake.

Even though they don't know exactly how they are going to do something, high-achievers keep their visions of the end-result uppermost in their minds and forge ahead. They believe that they will get the help they need, find the resources they need, and figure out the how-to's as they go-and they usually do.

Perfectionists, like high-achievers, tend to set high goals and work hard toward them. However, a high- achiever can be satisfied with doing a great job and achieving a level of excellence, even if their goals aren’t completely met. Perfectionists, on the other hand, will accept nothing less than perfection. Being almost perfect is seen as failure.

Essentially, high-achievers tend to be pulled toward their goals by a desire to achieve them, and are happy with any steps made in the right direction. Perfectionists, however, tend to be pushed toward their goals by a fear of not reaching them, and see anything less than a perfectly met goal as a failure.

If, for some reason, they do not achieve the outcome they wanted, high-achievers don't waste energy beating themselves up. They simply learn from the experience and move on. High-achievers believe that progressive improvement beats postponed perfection. This is why high-achievers tend to be leaders, not followers.

Quality professionals tend to fall into the perfectionist’s category, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be high-achievers as well. We need to decide to be less than perfect without compromising our integrity. This is very doable. All it takes is a commitment to accept less than perfect and focus on the bigger picture.

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Achievement

Laura
April 24, 2012
I thought Jim was speaking directly to me. I've spent most of my career in quality strieving to be as perfect as I could be. Now that I read Jim's article I can now see why my career, while decent, has not resulted in more reward and promotion. Thanks for the insight. Laura

Overcoming fear of failure

Jeff Tyun
April 25, 2012
I discovered you must have a growth mindset focus on the opportunity. Understand that you WILL sometimes fail but your failures DO NOT DEFINE WHO YOU ARE. Do not assume you are defective if something goes wrong (I got an ‘D' on my calculus exam means I need to try a different approach; it does not mean I am a stupid person). It's important to have a growth mindset that focuses on challenges. Seeing that opportunities give you the chance to try something new - even if it means you might not perform well. You absolutely will slow but surely improve if you don't take failure to heart. I actually wrote a full article on my blog http://www.iusedtobethatguy.com/the-massive-hurdle-that-is-fear-of-failure , please feel free to check it out my other inspirational articles. Source: My personal blog with advice on turning your life around http://iusedtobethatguy.com

Another great article

Pete
April 27, 2012
I am a programmer and find myself walking a fine line between the two categories. In the programming world, the job is never done. There are always changes in both requirements and technology. Because of this I've been forced to accept that the product can never be 'perfect', but can be good enough for the time being. At the same time, I constantly have to stop myself from pecking away at little tweaks that, while they do add value, don't give a big bang for the buck. (although the perfectionist in me is really good at justifying those tweaks!) Thanks again for the great insight! - Pete

Valid Points

Michelle
April 27, 2012
When I first read the article I wanted to challenge some of your points. However, when are reading it again, I had a different perspective and it was "Ouch!! That really hit home!" It makes a lot of sense and is likely the reason I seem to be stuck in my current job. Thanks for the "wake up" and let me know I have some things to work on. Thank You!! Very Valid points I will try to apply.

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