Monday, December 9, 2013

Eight Signs You May be a Perfectionist and Four Things You Can Do About It

I recently read an article about Perfectionism, and I have to confess, it struck a rather loud chord.

But wait! Perfectionism is a good thing, right? How can having strong work ethics and striving to be your best be bad?

Although our culture tends to reward perfectionists for setting their standards high and striving to meet them, the truth is perfectionists often pay the price in terms of unhappiness and feelings of inadequacy. Writers may be a group that are especially susceptible to the pains of perfectionism, and who can be the most harmed and disillusioned by unrealistic expectations. The first step is to recognize the symptoms.

How do you know if you might be a perfectionist?

You might be a perfectionist if... 
you believe you CAN please all of the people all of the time.

Are you often too eager to please? Perfectionism may have roots in childhood and the encouragement of parents to be an honor roll student, good in sports, class valedictorian, homecoming queen, etc. Fear of not living up to these expectations may begin at a very young age and follow us into adulthood.

You might be a perfectionist if...
Procrastination is your middle name.

Have a tendency to put things off? Although perfectionism can be defined as an intense drive to succeed, it can actually lead to putting things off due to fear of failure. Fear is never a good motivator. 

You might be a perfectionist if...
you feel a need to always wear a billowing "Superwriter" red cape.

Tend to be an overachiever? Perfectionists often take on too many tasks or projects which only sets them up for failure. This, in turn, can feed depression and ultimately suppress creative energy.

You might be a perfectionist if...
you have a hard time sharing your 'super secrets' with anyone else.

Have a hard time opening up to other people? Perfectionists often have difficulties with feeling exposed or vulnerable, and for this reason aren’t willing to discuss fears, disappointments or insecurities, even with those closest to them.

You might be a perfectionist if...
that big, shiny award you just won doesn't seem like it's nearly big or shiny enough.

Have constant feelings of inadequacy? If you tend to focus on what you haven’t accomplished rather than what you have, you may think of yourself as a failure and lack the self-esteem required to become a success. This in turn can lead to bouts of depression, withdrawal and lack of self-esteem.

You might be a perfectionist if...
Every bad review or less than stellar critique is a reason to don the boxing gloves.

Take things personally? When you’re a perfectionist, every criticism may feel like a personal attack. Instead of using constructive criticism as a way to learn and grow, perfectionists tend to let negative feedback fuel their self-doubts of not being good enough.

You might be a perfectionist if...
you always feel like you're coming up short and never feel like you've arrived.

Never feel like you’re getting anywhere? Perfection is to dream the impossible dream, so perfectionists usually have feelings they aren’t where they need to be, their manuscript isn’t ready, they aren’t talented enough, etc.

You might be a perfectionist if...
you have a major *headdesk* over every little setback.

If you're a perfectionist, you may beat yourself up over every misstep and guilt-yourself-to-death about not being a huge success, an overnight sensation, or even at the same level as some of your more successful peers.

So what do you think? Are you a perfectionist?

If you answered "YES" (even quietly, in your head) to at least half of the above, then yeah. You might be a perfectionist. And perfectionism could be short-circuiting your writing career and generally making you feel miserable about yourself and your work.

So we have to face it. "Perfect" is not an achievable thing.

Not every writer is going to win every contest, publish with every query, receive all five star reviews, or rocket to the top of the best sellers lists overnight. In fact, only a tiny fraction will ever see this level of success. Does that mean they're a failure? Not in the least. Most successful authors only got where they are by learning to cut themselves a little slack.

So if you think you might have perfectionist tendencies, you may be wondering if there's a way off the endless hamsterwheel. There's definitely a different way to think about goal-setting, and it may not be as hard as you might think to press the reset button.

1. Go ahead, give yourself permission to set your goals at a more achievable level.

Writers are dreamers. It's just part of who we are. Having big dreams is not a bad thing, but keep in mind how often (and how few) authors hit the big time. Recognize that you're probably not going to get there with your first novel--and that's perfectly okay! Instead focus on more realistic goals. Success is often a long and winding stairway, not an express elevator to fame and fortune. If you set out to achieve the miraculous, you're almost guaranteeing yourself a hefty dose of disappointment. Small steps, Paduwan, small steps.

2. Strive for "progress" not "perfect."

Think of your goals as little steps instead of giant leaps. Making progress up that long, winding staircase is only going to feel good if you're not expecting to leap up flights at a time. Expecting to do so is most likely setting yourself up fall. Hard.

3. Reward yourself for the small victories.

Big victories are usually built on a lot of smaller ones--just like the Great Pyramids were built on a lot of smaller blocks of stone. Reward yourself for what you DO achieve. Keep a notebook of successes. Create a special Calendar of Achievement. Make yourself a certificate of achievement for your latest met goal to hang on the wall as a reminder that you're moving forward. The truth is you aren't going to attain every goal you set. Celebrate your triumphs instead of feeling like a failure for not achieving the pie-in-the-sky summits most writers only dream of.

4. Learn to limit your goal-setting.

Don't try to spread yourself too thin. Setting too many goals can be as bad as setting goals that are too difficult to achieve. Think about what really matters to you, your career and other areas of your life and focus on those goals. Keep it simple. Set just a few and only add another once you achieve one of those. That's not to say you shouldn't think about your long term goals, only that you shouldn't expect to achieve them tomorrow.

Want to learn more? You can read about Perfectionism at these sites...


  1. when I was younger, I edged toward trying, but yeah, gave it up. LOL

  2. Oh, dear, I said yes to an awful lot of those. >.< However, I *am* trying to do some of those things to tone it down, like stop and count up my achievements for the year and what progress I've made.

  3. Actually, a good thing I saw and that I meant to do myself but keep forgetting, is to write all the good things and highlights on a bit of paper, and store them in a jar. Then at the end of the year, or maybe when you feel particularly low, you read them back. You'll probably find there were more than you thought.

  4. LOL Pauline. Yeah, I think I've mellowed with age, but the tendencies are still there at times.

    Pippa, I like that idea of highlights in a jar. I suppose writing down all your successes in a journal or special diary might work too.

    Sometimes we forget how far we've come when we're focusing on what we haven't achieved yet. At least, that's how it seems for me.

  5. I just noticed I left the "a" out of my title. Had to go fix it immediately, know...perfectionist. :)


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