Do Perfectionists Really Work Harder?

You’ve likely heard the phrase work smarter, not harder. Many perfectionists land more on the “work harder” side of that equation—since their standards are so high, they have to work harder than everyone else. That’s what they’d like you to believe, anyway—many times perfectionists only give the illusion of working hard.

Perfectionists have long been defined by their incredibly high standards. But behind the illusion of having it all together is exhaustion and fear.

I know, because I spent decades of my life as a perfectionist. Both in my own experience, and in the experiences of my clients who engage me as either their Christian counselor or certified transformation coach, I see three main things that perfectionists spend more of their time struggling with instead of being productive.

1. Insecurity. Perfectionists are often absorbed in what others think of them. They often feel that nothing they do is good enough. Their standards create anxiety, worry and depression—all productivity killers!

2. Fear of Failure and Competitiveness. Even when perfectionists achieve a goal, they can’t bask in that victory for very long. Fear eventually grips them and forces them to believe that the worst is yet to come. Perfectionists’ fears also drive them to be intensely competitive, even among loved ones. These two traits take their focus off the big picture.

3. Waiting for the “Perfect” Moment. Many perfectionists are extremely creative and intelligent but sadly much of their potential goes untapped. Many perfectionists spend more time weighing the costs than taking action. They may look busy, but the busyness comes from vacillating and perfecting rather than actually working hard.

Here are four fixes that have helped thousands of perfectionists break free from the chains that bind them:

  1. Embracing mistakes. One way to get over a fear is to face it head on. Make mistakes, and do it front of others. People will actually be drawn to your vulnerability when you allow them to see the ways in which you’ve messed up. Who would have thought? Not this recovering perfectionist! Yes, I still need to brace myself when I make mistakes, but I’m better able to ride them out and see positive things happen BECAUSE I made the mistake.
    2. Knowing when to quit. Because perfectionists don’t like to fail, they will often stay in something too long. 
However, this tenacity only makes it worse. It takes a self-forgiving person to know when to say, “I gotta move on. I did the best I could.”
    3. Taking the masks off. Everyone sees through them anyway—the only people you fool with your phony facades are those who have limited interaction with you. Yes, you will feel naked for a little while, but as people connect with the real you, you will begin to see how rewarding genuine relationships are.
    4. Trying something new. Perfectionists love familiarity because it helps them feel more in control of themselves and their environment. So step out and try something that you’ve never done and do it in front of others for the first time.

Despite the hold that perfectionism has on people it is possible to overcome. Try these simple (albeit, not easy) tips and you’ll be on your way to living a courageous, authentic life.

5 replies
  1. Monique Renee Veal
    Monique Renee Veal says:

    Good day Kris,
    Frankly, I am tired of everything. I lived as a perfectionist trying to please people in my younger years. Now I could care less and people will reject you quickly when you retire from perfectionism. So many people that I know are perfectionists and demanding and commanding that everyone else around become a perfectionist so they can all self destruct together. I became so bitter and angry from being a perfectionist that I went to the opposite side of productivity. That’s right laziness, apathy, indifference and depression. It is a challenge to have a healthy balance. Legalism in the body of Christ is what birthed my perfectionism as a young person. I still struggle with perfectionism but not like before.

  2. krisreece
    krisreece says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. Your vulnerability will help a lot of women as many hide behind perfectionism. God bless you!

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