Is Perfectionism Desirable for Success? by Rodney Orders, LCSW-C

We all strive to be successful. However, it is important to consider our personal definition of success. At what point does perfectionism turn from adaptive to maladaptive? If you are a perfectionist, it is likely that you learned early in life that other people valued you because of how much you accomplished or achieved. As a result you may have learned to value yourself only on the basis of other people’s approval, which may leave you vulnerable to criticism and negative thoughts about yourself. At what point is the desire to be perfect an unrealistic goal?

Recent research on perfectionism suggests that the desire to be perfect can rob you of your sense of personal satisfaction and may even cause feelings of inadequacy or severe emotional difficulties. Perfectionism can lead to unhealthy comparisons to others, feeling like other people are “better” than you or “doing a better job” than you. It may be difficult to relax because anything less than an all out effort is deemed worthless. Perfectionism can lead to excessive worrying about whether you are doing enough, and one mistake can be viewed as failure.

Although many successful people have adaptive and healthy perfectionistic traits, one can encounter three major problems if these are taken to the extreme:

  • Everything seems important. You may not be able to prioritize your efforts and therefore not be able to decide what to do – as a result, nothing is accomplished
  • You may not know how to pace yourself. You may believe that total effort is needed on every task, which is unsustainable over time, making you susceptible to burnout
  • Your self-worth is primarily tied to your achievements. This can lead to insecurity because you may not know how to value yourself day-to-day.

Ways to develop “healthy” success

  1. Realize perfection is an unattainable illusion.
  2. Set up step-by-step realistic expectations for yourself and become a “healthy” striver. Healthy strivers tend to set goals for themselves based on their wants and desires rather than in response to external expectations. Their goals are usually one step beyond what they have already accomplished. They tend to take pleasure in the process of pursuing the task rather than focusing on the end result or achievement.
  3. Confront your fears and ask yourself, “What is the worst that can happen?” and “Do I set up unrealistic expectations for myself?”


Darnell, Dan: “Perfectionism: What it is and ways to deal with it” Perfectionism-UIUC Counseling Center


About Orders Counseling

Orders Counseling provides psychotherapy for teens, couples, and individuals in the Washington, D.C. metro area. My mission is to help you reach your full potential so you can achieve lasting change.
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