Perfectionism

by Barrie Hopson on December 24, 2014 · 0 comments

in portfolio careers

I have noticed a recent trend in that many people are linking to the assessment tool on this site that will give you an idea as to whether or not a portfolio career is right for you. In the results we make it clear that if you are a perfecionist then a portfolio career is perhaps not for you. I have been interested in recent research from Leeds University by Professor Danyl O’Connor on this topic and he states clearly that his research links perfectionism to a tendency to experience stress, depression, anorexia and suicide. “For a perfectionist, a stressful encounter is typically seen as an opportunity to fail”.

Perfectionism is a trait many of us say, maybe even a little proudly. (“I’m a perfectionist” being the classic response you say in a job interview when asked to name your biggest flaw — one that you think isn’t really a flaw — for example.)  Gordon Flett, a psychologist at York University, Canada, who has spent decades researching the potentially ruinous psychological impact of perfectionism says, “Other than those people who have suffered greatly because of their perfectionism or the perfectionism of a loved one, the average person has very little understanding or awareness of how destructive perfectionism can be.”

It is easy to see what might drive a perfectionist to self-harm. The all-or-nothing, impossibly high standards perfectionists set for themselves often mean that they’re not happy even when they’ve achieved success. Research has suggested that anxiety over making mistakes may ultimately be holding some perfectionists back from ever achieving success in the first place. “Wouldn’t it be good if your surgeon, or your lawyer or financial advisor, is a perfectionist?” said Thomas S. Greenspon, a psychologist and author of a recent paper  on an “antidote to perfectionism,” published in Psychology in the Schools. “Actually, no. The research confirms that the most successful people in any given field are less likely to be perfectionistic, because the anxiety about making mistakes gets in your way,” he continued. “Waiting for the surgeon to be absolutely sure the correct decision is being made could allow me to bleed to death.”

There’s a distinction between perfectionism and the pursuit of excellence, Greenspon said. Perfectionism is more than pushing yourself to do your best to achieve a goal; it’s a reflection of an inner self mired in anxiety. “Perfectionistic people typically believe that they can never be good enough, that mistakes are signs of personal flaws, and that the only route to acceptability as a person is to be perfect,” he said. Because the one thing these people are decidedly not-perfect at is self-compassion.

If you have perfectionistic tendencies, Flett advises aiming the trait outside yourself. “There is much to be said for feeling better about yourself  by volunteering and making a difference in the lives of others,” he said. If you’re a perfectionist who also happens to be a parent, then the research suggests that perfectionism is a trait that you can pass down to your kids. One simple way to help your kids, he suggests, is storytelling. “Kids love to hear a parent or teacher talk about mistakes they have made or failures that have had to overcome,” he said. “This can reinforce the ‘nobody is perfect and you don’t have to be either’ theme.”

It’s important to address as early as possible, because the link between perfectionism and suicide attempts is a particularly dangerous one. In a sad twist of irony, once a perfectionist has made up his mind to end his own life, his conscientious nature may make him more likely to succeed. Perfectionists act deliberately, not impulsively, and this means their plans for taking their own lives tend to be very well thought-out and researched, Flett and colleagues write.

You can easily see why a perfectionist could find a portfolio career  a nightmare. On the other hand rather than just dismissing the idea it maybe you should be making it  a priority to conscioulsy rid yourself of this characteristic which will reinforce a fixed mindset, discourage you from risk taking and minimising your chances of having fun and a rewarding life.

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