Strengths in Action - Why being a perfectionist may not be so perfect

Holly Holm-Powell - Assessment Consultant

Perfectionism – a construct that in itself, is ironically not so perfect.

This trait has been one of my biggest downfalls, through school and university to part-time jobs. I would even go so far as to say that it has hindered me in reaching the ultimate goal I was trying to achieve; perfectionism.

Cambridge English Dictionary defines perfectionism as:

“a person who wants everything to be perfect and demands the highest standards possible”

But what really is perfect? To one person it might be something that is of the highest quality, to another it may be exceeding all expectations.

To me it was something else; it was the desire and need to get everything right the first time, and never making a mistake. I quite literally feared making mistakes. I used to be the classic example of someone who repeatedly chose to do activities and tasks that I knew I would be good at, rather than trying to push myself to do something that could be a challenge, and thus something I could fail at. I refused to put my hand up in class to answer a question in case I got it wrong. These may seem like little things, but it meant I stopped myself from growing and developing.

Being a perfectionist is something that I have been since before I can even remember, but I’ve never really understood where it could have come from. I thought it was something I was always going to have to deal with, but a year ago that all changed. A year ago I started my role as an Assessment Consultant with Capp, the Strengths experts. I have learnt so many things through my journey over the past year, but it’s safe to say that the one that can have the biggest impact on my career (and life) is that not being perfect is okay – in fact, it’s more than okay.

Let’s jump forward to a couple of months ago, when I recently re-took my Strengths Profile. I had been in my role for over six months and it was time to see where my Strengths were now. Upon re-taking the profile, my top Realised Strength became Self-Awareness, moving up from being an Unrealised Strength and knocking Adherence off of the top spot. As an Unrealised Strength, this means being self-aware was something that I have always enjoyed being, but have not had much chance to demonstrate it. This makes a lot of sense thinking back to before I joined Capp – I very much thought in the moment and avoided thinking about what the future might hold, constantly always having something else to think about rather than myself.

Now over the past six months, and even a year, my drive to be perfect has gone down while my Self-Awareness has increased, and I don’t think that is a coincidence.

Through using my Self-Awareness I can now see that I have so many qualities I can offer both work, and anything I put my mind to. I have Strengths in Planful, Drive, and Relationship Deepener which I have been able to utilise in my work to show off what I am capable of. I now know that it doesn’t matter if I have weaknesses in other areas, and if I sometimes make mistakes. I have wonderful colleagues around me who I can draw upon when I make a mistake or when I may need to do something that is a weakness of mine. And don’t get me wrong, my perfectionism hasn’t completely gone - with my Strength in Pride I will always love doing things to the best quality, but I have learnt to accept that when this may be more challenging! I have a wealth of other resources I can use to help me, and I can take more control over how I choose to react.

If I could go back to a year ago, the one thing I would want to teach myself is that being a perfectionist is okay, but not getting things right all the time is also okay. I have learnt so much about my role, my career and myself through getting things wrong, and all it took was understanding more about my Strengths and what I do well, and knowing where to go if I can’t be perfect.