High Achievers Know that Striving for Perfection Is Never the Answer

4 Min Read

What is the optimal balance between being a high-achiever and being a perfectionist?

A recent study published by the BBC reviewed the issue of working with perfectionists and found that people prefer working with realists rather than those who strive for perfection. In fact, perfectionists are harder to work with and, in addition to creating delays in delivery times and in completion of tasks, waiting until something is seemingly perfect before delivering it also creates tension and conflict over details that may not be that important.

High achievers know that the journey they are on will include setbacks, failures, and disappointments.

Perfection is subjective. As such, two teammates working together to deliver a result will probably not view perfection in the same way. The quest to achieve this perfection is futile and a much better success measure would be getting things done on time, working together well, leveraging each other's strengths, and not adhering to one teammate's definition of perfection.

When evaluating working relationships with perfectionists one may unintentionally confuse them with high achievers. Being a motivated high achiever should not be confused with being a perfectionist because they are surprisingly vastly different. High achievers are an asset to a company whereas perfectionists can be a detriment if they are not aware of the effect they have on others. The difference lies in a few key factors that can be addressed when approached directly.

On Motivation: Where the Differences Lie and How to Pivot Your Approach.

When examining what drives people, it is evident that high achievers are motivated by the opportunity for constant improvement, but they also know that their best at a given time is enough. Conversely, perfectionists are commonly motivated by fear – the fear of being criticized or of failure, even if it is in their own eyes. Motivations are different between high achievers and perfectionists and so are the goals they set for themselves. Reflect on your own career drive – what is influencing each decision you are making? How is that impacting your own work and the work of your teammates?

Reflect on where you've come from and where you're headed. By analyzing and commending yourself for progress rather than fearing what could go wrong, you can push yourself to celebrate your accomplishments rather than to fear the pessimistic possibilities. Looking at the growth and the possibilities to learn both for yourself and the others you work with, can alter your attitude and perspective for the better and relieve some of the unnecessary pressure you may be creating.

On Goals: How You Set Your Personal Goals Defines Your Approach and How You Work with Others.

When setting goals, it is imperative to make sure they are reasonable and attainable. Being fair and flexible will ultimately achieve higher productivity and better outcomes. High achievers set high standards such as growth and tough deadlines, but these standards are flexible and achievable. From the get-go, it may seem that perfectionists do the same, but they do so without reasonable timelines or expectations which can leave teammates discouraged.

On Progress: Focus More on the Journey Than the Destination.

High achievers are motivated when they see progress — a valuable goal that helps people prosper. Recognizing progress respects the journey just as much as the destination and can help ongoing relationships with teammates to thrive. Winston Churchill once said that "perfection is the enemy of progress" because when attempting to achieve perfection you will delay making decisions or moving ahead with goals.

Move away from the idea that "failure is not an option" because without risk there is no reward.

Managers who find a way to include goals that recognize stages on the journey see their teams grow and develop through the process. We spend so much time on the journey and so little time at the destination, so acknowledging this will make us better and more productive managers, employees, and teammates.

On relationships: Pay Attention to How Your Own Style of Working and Measuring Yourself Is Impacting Your Coworkers and Teammates

Relationships are crucial when comparing high achievers and perfectionists. As a professional, you need to be aware how your work style is impacting those around you. High achievers know how to be kind to themselves and to others. They allow room for mistakes, differences in opinion, and interpretation.

On the other hand, perfectionists can alienate others by cutting them out for the sake of control or can make them feel inadequate by setting a bar too high. Teammates working with perfectionists will pull back feeling underappreciated and judged. To avoid this, set reasonable goals for yourself, give yourself credit for areas where you're thriving, and be realistic and accepting of areas where you can improve.

Understand and acknowledge that you can't realistically achieve perfection – let alone on everything all the time. Accepting progress and effort is important for yourself and will set a good example for those around you as well.

On Failure: Think of How You Treat Yourself When You Fail and Where You Can Change to Be a Better Team Player.

A great example of treatment of failure comes from athletes whose point of failure is their greatest achievement. Failure is their great motivation to improve and jump higher, run faster, throw further, etc. Their latest result is the one to beat tomorrow or at the next competition and are on their way to achieving more.

Understand and acknowledge that you can't realistically achieve perfection – let alone on everything all the time.

High achievers know that the journey they are on will include setbacks, failures, and disappointments. Failing is part of life and it is instrumental in progressing and growing as a person. Hiding in fear of failure gets people stuck and stunts their ability to develop to their full potential. Move away from the idea that "failure is not an option" because without risk there is no reward.

How to Move Away from Perfection and Focus on Growth, Achievement, and Progress.

When mentoring young professionals, pointing out the differences between being a highly motivated ambitious professional and being a perfectionist can help them succeed and truly make an impact wherever they work. It is important to think about and do this for yourself, too. By focusing on your own goals and growth – rather than what could have been – you will not only feel better about yourself, but you'll also be the coworker everyone wants to work with and feels comfortable approaching for questions, concerns, and promotions.

3 min read

Help! My Friend Is a No Show

Email armchairpsychologist@swaaymedia.com to get the advice you need!

Help! My Friend Is a No Show

Dear Armchair Psychologist,

I have a friend who doesn't reply to my messages about meeting for dinner, etc. Although, last week I ran into her at a local restaurant of mine, it has always been awkward to be friends with her. Should I continue our friendship or discontinue it? We've been friends for a total four years and nothing has changed. I don't feel as comfortable with her as my other close friends, and I don't think I'll ever be able to reach that comfort zone in pure friendship.


Dear Sadsies,

I am sorry to hear you've been neglected by your friend. You may already have the answer to your question, since you're evaluating the non-existing bond between yourself and your friend. However, I'll gladly affirm to you that a friendship that isn't reciprocated is not a good friendship.

I have had a similar situation with a friend whom I'd grown up with but who was also consistently a very negative person, a true Debby Downer. One day, I just had enough of her criticism and vitriol. I stopped making excuses for her and dumped her. It was a great decision and I haven't looked back. With that in mind, it could be possible that something has changed in your friend's life, but it's insignificant if she isn't responding to you. It's time to dump her and spend your energy where it's appreciated. Don't dwell on this friend. History is not enough to create a lasting bond, it only means just that—you and your friend have history—so let her be history!

- The Armchair Psychologist

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