Get Real: Why Perfectionism Leads to Failure

Face it, you’re not perfect, and that’s okay. Movies, magazines, and television tend to present an idealistic self-image of how people should look, feel, and act, and these unrealistic depictions can lead to a perfectionist attitude. Even some self-help philosophy’s can make the claim that perfection is a reachable peak if we follow the right principles. Though, an inherent part of being human is fallibility and imperfection.

No one is perfect in any objective or temporal sense. We must be careful in striving for perfect health, great wealth, and pure happiness, as this undertaking could be the exact thing leading to our failure and demise. The more we focus on idealistic circumstances, the tougher it gets to reach these expectations and accept the inevitable failures along the way. It’s great to strive for excellence and work toward being the best you can be, but when this philosophy is taken to the extreme; it can cause serious distress and unhappiness. Here’s why perfectionism leads to failure.

You will never be satisfied

The perfectionist can never appreciate what they have gained or accomplished. No matter how many accolades they amass, or how much progress they make, they’ll never be satisfied with present accomplishments. To them, they are far from reaching their potential. Each new accomplishment just leads to the next bigger and better aspiration. A perfectionist is unable to enjoy and recognize the objective success they have achieved. There is a perpetually unfilled void they are continually seeking to satisfy. Regardless of what praise a perfectionist receives they don’t feel proud of their accomplishments. There is a major difference between stark humility and being modest, and a perfectionist will fall to the extreme, always discounting their achievements. No matter what success means to you, remember that perfectionism will only cloud your achievements and personal satisfaction. You must find ways to appreciate the accomplishments in your life.

You will cease to grow

Extreme perfectionists are unwilling to try something unless they know they will be successful. If there’s any chance of failure you can count the perfectionist out. Unfortunately for the perfectionist, avoiding failure is the most certain way to prevent learning and becoming a wiser person. If you avoid every opportunity that lacks a certainty for success, you will miss out on discovering what you’re truly capable of, and won’t learn the valuable lessons that come with experience. We must learn to fail or fail to learn. Failure is an essential part of success. By embracing this view, imperfections can be accepted and embraced as a part of the learning process for reaching our goals. Approach your fears and push past those situations where you might “mess up.” This will provide an opportunity to experience more from life, and to grow personally and professionally.

Missing out on what it means to be human

How do perfectionists deal with their emotions? They may take the approach that perfection means they always have to feel happy and be positive. Experiencing negative emotions means they aren’t a “good” person and aren’t feeling how they “should.” This leads to a self-perpetuating cycle where perfectionists feel guilty about feeling “bad.” This unwillingness to deal with uncomfortable emotions sets you up for a meltdown, and it certainly doesn’t lead to greater happiness. The wide range of emotional experience is part of being human. The perfectionist must learn to accept distressing emotions instead of judging themselves for feeling this way. Life has up’s and down’s and we will all experience happiness, sadness, grief, and joy. Learning not to judge or criticize our emotions provides a chance to work through emotions as they come and go, instead of getting stuck ruminating about how we feel.

Lower your standards to improve performance?

Understanding that failure and imperfection are inevitable can actually provide a chance to improve your performance. The Yerkes-Dodson law explains that we all have a peak level of arousal for optimal performance. In general, performance increases with arousal, though only up to a point. If arousal or anxiety is too high, performance can falter. People need to be challenged, but still need to feel comfortable and competent. If you are extremely nervous and anxious about your performance being perfect, it can cause performance anxiety. Think about a time when you gave a public speech, took a test, or took part in any public presentation. If you felt overly nervous about how you would be evaluated, it probably inhibited you from performing at your best, and I’m sure you were able to pick out all the points where things didn’t go “perfect.” Approaching a challenge with collected excitement will provide the best results. It’s a matter of feeling confident and optimistic, while at the same time knowing that mistakes may occur. Maybe you want to spend more time with your family but don’t because you feel you didn’t get “enough” done at the office. Maybe you’re student wanting to spend more time with friends and enjoying extracurricular activities, but feel that you have to constantly be studying in order to get perfect grades. Regardless of your plight, the key to living an optimal life is knowing we can’t do it all, and won’t do it all perfectly. Find moments to be proud of your accomplishments and appreciate the hard work and dedication you devote to achieving your goals. Develop work-life balance so you can be apart of important experiences. When you’re with family, “be” with family, when you’re with friends, really “be” with your friends. Life won’t be perfect, and by recognizing this, you will find many more moments of happiness.

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