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Perfectionist Paralysis: How You’re Unknowingly Sabotaging Your Career

Perfectionism is killing your progress

Overthinking every decision, overdelivering when you don’t need to, giving too much attention to menial tasks, and continuing to create habits that have no added benefit will not do anyone good, neither to you nor your company. Though perfectionism is a trait that is much more rampant in the business world than you might imagine.

Perfectionism is often labeled as one of those “endearing flaws” that might be a little bad, but mostly good. We hear interviewees mentioning their perfectionism as a “flaw that is a strength in disguise,” when really, perfectionism tends to delay progress than improve it. Now is time to stop glorifying this trait in job interviews and start working on it like we would any bad mental habit. And with most mental habits, it all starts with reframing your way of thinking and taking a different approach from what you’re used to.

How to Reframe Your Perfectionist Thinking

It’s all just a game

Perfectionism is actually a certain type of fear in disguise, and that is the fear of failure. Perfectionists’ minds are constantly worried about the dire consequences and utter humiliation that might come with making even the smallest of mistakes; what if my boss fires me if I didn’t indent all my paragraphs? What if we lose a really important client because I didn’t mention enough data in the report? What if my team thinks I’m a lousy manager for choosing the wrong tool? These are some of the many, many thoughts that plague the perfectionist.

While it’s easy for us to come and tell you to stop stressing over the little things and focus on the big picture, it’s much harder to implement for perfectionists who have had this mindset for the majority of their lives. So here’s what we’ll tell you instead: Think of it as a game.

That’s right, a game. We all like playing games, don’t we? Are you ever afraid to lose in a game? Maybe a little, but you’re probably so focused on the fun of it all that the fear eventually starts fading into the background. In a game, you’re more excited about progressing in the game, getting better, discovering new ideas, tools, or people, and improving your skills. The fear is there, sure, but that stops being your focus. When you think of your job, your career, or running your company or department as a game, then failure becomes less scary and much more tolerable.

Don’t stop, keep going

We might think perfectionists, while they might get things done at a slower pace, almost never do wrong. But failure is bound to happen, as we’re all human, and even perfectionists are not immune to it, but what happens to perfectionists when they see failure on the horizon? Either one of these two things will happen: they either quit midway or continue to procrastinate. Failure is so unbearable to the perfectionist that they would avoid it at all costs. In the business world, this is detrimental; you can’t just decide to abandon a contract, or discontinue a new tool you’ve been trying to implement at the company, or put off that dreaded call from a client, or continue to postpone deadlines. When you start something, you finish it. So a word of advice to all perfectionists reading this: don’t stop, keep going.

Of course, that doesn’t mean continuing to follow a strategy that doesn’t work or refusing to switch to a different, better tool. Not stopping means making the most of what you have right now when it’s unfeasible—whether money or time-wise—to go back and do it all over. When you know the client isn’t happy about the work you did, get on that call and stop putting it off. When you’re in the middle of a project contract, the deadline is nearing, and you’re almost out of resources, finish what you started and do the best you can with whatever you have at hand. If the deadline for that report is tomorrow, don’t postpone it and do the bare minimum. Once you’ve gotten used to not quitting midway or running away from these commitments, you’ll slowly start to notice that your performance and the work you’re putting out is nowhere as bad as you thought it was.

Set some ground rules

Another way to keep your perfectionist tendencies in check is to lay out some ground rules for yourself. Sometimes it can get frustrating to the perfectionist when he or she can’t send an email without reading it fifty times, or won’t do something unless they get “everything right” before they go ahead and do it. If you’re aware of this, then that’s great! This is in fact the first step in the process of gaining control over your perfectionism since now you know when your perfectionism tends to show up, which will come in handy once you start setting those ground rules

Let’s say you have an awful habit of rereading your emails, which is constantly causing delays and draining your mental energy. You can set a ground-rule whenever you catch yourself doing that by telling yourself, “I’m only allowed to reread my emails three times, and then I’ll send them.” So now, whenever you catch yourself rereading emails, you’ll ask yourself, “how many times have I read this email already?” Having these “ground rules” in place helps keep you aware of the times when your perfectionism isn’t serving you. This way of reframing your perfectionist mentality will help you notice all the habits that you thought were serving you over the years when they actually weren’t and have been the root cause of a lot of delayed progress or mental health struggles you may be experiencing.

Let go of the “perfect solution”

It’s not easy to go from caring about the smallest of details to barely giving them an ounce of your attention. These habits will help you make that smooth transition from being a perfectionist to being more efficient at your job without you even realizing it that much. You’ll soon realize yourself progressing in your career little by little when you slowly start letting go of the perfectionist habits that had little to no benefit.

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