Perfectionism: Superpower or Character Flaw?

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In interviews, sometimes people get asked about their strengths and weaknesses.  (This is a useless question because people can say anything, but that is a topic for a different day.)  When an interviewer asks about weaknesses, we aren’t going to tell them how lazy we are or how we have a rebellious streak.  It’s much more likely that we will try to find a “benign weakness” or one that is actually a backhanded compliment to ourselves, like “I’m a perfectionist”.

Perfectionism sounds like it would be a good thing, but it is not only not a compliment, it is a way of interacting with the world that can seriously impact our own happiness.  Wanting things to be perfect is not about quality, it is about control.  It is about wanting to exert our own will over the things and the people around us.  It is not healthy, and it is not something to take lightly or to take secret pleasure in.

I am a perfectionist, and I am not proud of it.  However, like many character flaws, it also can present itself as a superpower in some situations.  My perfectionism can get me to do a bit more work than I intended to do just to finish off at a “perfect” place or within a “perfect” time.  But it also means that I can’t stop doing “the thing” (whatever happens to be the current object of my compulsion) until I have gotten that little “hit of the perfect”.  If something is “not quite right” in my own mind, I have to fix it.  I literally cannot stop thinking about it until the thing that I am obsessing about is put right.  

What I am describing is yet another aspect of addiction – using one thing to substitute for a lack of something else.  It is not something to be proud of, and it is not something employers should want or try to develop in their employees.  I am working on trying to be less of a perfectionist, both in my daily life and in my role as a leader.  


I think that writing can help with thinking and learning – both for the writer and the reader – so I am going to try to write more regularly.  My inner perfectionist (read: addict) would never deem anything I write to be good enough to publish, so I have decided to follow Robbie Swale’s “12 Minute Method” and write for 12 minutes, then proofread what I have written once, then – EEK – publish it.  This is a perfectionist’s nightmare, but I think it will help to teach me how to let good enough be good enough.  

(I don’t want to admit how much time I spent/wasted designing this exceedingly simple graphic. Oh, the irony!)