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Breaking Free from the Shackles of Perfectionism: A Guide to Thriving in Your Career

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The Perfectionism Trap: How to Overcome It Before It Hurts Your Career

Despite how many people seem to be trying to figure out how to overcome perfectionism, perfectionism is a trait that many people view as a positive attribute. After all, who doesn't want to be perfect?

The problem comes when perfectionism grows into an unhealthy obsession that dominates your thoughts and actions. When this happens, perfectionism becomes a barrier to your success—preventing you from achieving your goals and damaging your career.

Perfectionists tend to be extremely self-critical and hold themselves to impossibly high standards. You might be thinking that you like to produce high-quality work and you have high standards, but perfectionists often experience intense anxiety when things don't go according to plan or when they make mistakes.

This can lead to procrastination, avoidance of challenges, and missed opportunities for growth. It's important to recognize that perfectionism is not the same as striving for excellence.

Striving for excellence involves setting high standards while still accepting mistakes as part of the learning process. Perfectionism, on the other hand, involves an unrealistic expectation of flawlessness and an unwillingness to accept imperfections.

The Importance of Overcoming Perfectionism

If you're a perfectionist, it's essential for both your personal well-being and career success that you overcome this trait before it becomes a hindrance. Perfectionists often struggle with burnout due to their inability to switch off from work or take time for themselves; they feel guilty if they do so because they feel like they should always be working on something. In addition, perfectionists are prone to negative self-talk, which can create feelings of anxiety and low self-esteem.

This negativity can further damage your career prospects by making it harder for you to network effectively or take risks in your job. Overcoming perfectionism requires effort but is well worth it in the end because it allows you more freedom in both work and life.

You'll be able to take on new challenges, make mistakes without feeling guilty, and enjoy the present moment rather than always worrying about the future. In this article, we'll explore some effective strategies for overcoming perfectionism and achieving greater career success.

Understanding Perfectionism

The Fine Line between Healthy Striving and Unhealthy Perfectionism

Let's get one thing straight: there's nothing wrong with striving for excellence. In fact, setting high expectations for yourself can be a powerful motivator, pushing you to achieve more than you ever thought possible.

However, when those aspirations become unrealistic and unattainable, that's when perfectionism starts to rear its ugly head. Perfectionism is driven by an insatiable desire for flawlessness in every aspect of life – whether it’s your work performance or your personal relationships.

The problem is that this unrealistic standard is impossible to meet, leading to a constant sense of inadequacy and self-doubt. When perfectionism takes over, it can lead to a fear of failure so intense that it paralyzes your ability to take risks and try new things.

Traits and Behaviors of Perfectionists

Perfectionists often exhibit common traits and behaviors that set them apart from their non-perfectionist peers. These may include an obsession with detail, difficulty delegating tasks or working collaboratively with others, procrastination due to fear of failure or criticism, and harsh self-criticism even in the face of success.

Another common trait among perfectionists is the tendency towards all-or-nothing thinking – believing that if they can't do something perfectly, then it's not worth doing at all. This leads them to set impossibly high standards for themselves which they are unable to meet time after time.

In order to overcome perfectionism before it begins taking a toll on your career (and personal life), it's important first recognize these traits within oneself. Only by acknowledging these tendencies can we begin working towards healthier ways of thinking and behaving in both our personal and professional lives.

Identifying Your Perfectionism Triggers

The Importance of Self-Reflection

If you are a perfectionist, it's important to identify your triggers in order to understand why you feel compelled to strive for perfection all the time. This can be a difficult task, as many people are not even aware that they suffer from perfectionism. However, by taking the time to reflect on your thoughts and behaviors, you can start to pinpoint what triggers your perfectionist tendencies.

One way to start identifying your triggers is by paying attention to the situations or tasks that cause you stress or anxiety. For example, do you find yourself obsessing over every detail of a project at work?

Or feel overwhelmed by the idea of giving a presentation? These could be signs that you're struggling with perfectionism.

The Fear of Failure

One common trigger for perfectionism is the fear of failure. Many people believe that if they're not perfect, they will fail in some way – whether it's at work, in their personal life or in their own eyes.

If this sounds like you, it's important to recognize that everyone makes mistakes and that failure is often necessary for growth and learning. One way to overcome this fear is by setting realistic goals and expectations for yourself.

Instead of striving for perfection all the time, try setting attainable goals that challenge you but are still within reach. This can help alleviate some of the pressure you put on yourself and allow you to focus on making progress rather than achieving an unattainable standard.

Criticism and Feedback

Another trigger for perfectionism may be criticism or feedback from others. If you find yourself constantly seeking approval or worrying about what others think of your work, it could be a sign that criticism triggers your need for perfection. It's important to remember that constructive criticism can be helpful and should be welcomed as an opportunity for growth.

Instead of taking criticism personally, try to view it as a chance to learn and improve. It can also be helpful to seek feedback from trusted colleagues or mentors who can provide constructive criticism in a supportive way.

By identifying your perfectionism triggers, you can start to challenge the thoughts and behaviors that are holding you back from reaching your full potential. Remember, progress is better than perfection!

Challenging Your Perfectionist Thoughts

The Problem with Negative Self-Talk

Blurry home office with a desktop computer monitor sitting in front of a window

Perfectionists tend to have a negative inner dialogue that can hinder their performance and overall well-being. Negative self-talk perpetuates the belief that perfection is the only acceptable outcome, which sets unrealistic expectations.

The problem with this mindset is that it creates a vicious cycle of self-doubt, anxiety, and poor performance. To overcome perfectionism, it's essential to challenge these negative thoughts by recognizing them for what they are – irrational beliefs.

Strategies for Challenging Negative Self-Talk

One strategy for challenging negative self-talk is to identify the underlying beliefs and question their validity. For example, if you find yourself thinking “I'll never be good enough,” ask yourself where this belief comes from and if there's any evidence to support it. Another strategy is to reframe negative thoughts into positive ones.

Instead of saying “I didn't do well on that project,” try reframing it as “I learned a lot from that project.” Another helpful strategy is to practice mindfulness by observing your thoughts without judgment or attachment.

This technique helps you become more aware of your inner dialogue and catch yourself when you start slipping into negative self-talk. Over time, mindfulness can help you shift your focus away from perfectionism and toward more productive thinking patterns.

Seeing Mistakes as Opportunities for Growth

Perfectionists tend to view mistakes as failures rather than opportunities for growth. However, mistakes are an inevitable part of learning, and they provide valuable feedback on what needs improvement.

Reframing mistakes as opportunities allows us to take risks without fear of failure while also maintaining a growth mindset. One way to reframe mistakes is by focusing on what went right instead of what went wrong in a particular situation.

This approach helps identify strengths and build on them while also acknowledging areas for improvement. Another way is to view mistakes as an essential part of the learning process.

By embracing mistakes, you can learn valuable lessons that will help you grow both personally and professionally. Challenging negative self-talk and reframing mistakes as opportunities for growth requires a shift in mindset from perfectionism to a growth mindset.

This transition takes time, effort, and patience but is well worth it in the long run. By recognizing negative thoughts for what they are and embracing mistakes as learning opportunities, you can overcome perfectionism before it hurts your career.

Setting Realistic Goals and Priorities

Emphasize the importance of setting achievable goals and prioritizing tasks

As a perfectionist, it's easy to get bogged down in the details of every project. But sometimes, perfect isn't always better.

In fact, striving for perfection can actually hinder progress! That's why it's important to develop goals in a way that can thrill and excite you without holding you to a standard of perfection.

When setting your goals, ask yourself: What do I want to accomplish? What is a reasonable timeline for completing this task?

And what resources will I need to make it happen? By taking the time to plan out your goals step-by-step, you can prioritize your tasks and stay on track without getting lost in the minutiae.

Provide tips for breaking down larger goals into smaller, more manageable steps

Breaking down larger goals into smaller, more manageable steps is key to staying focused on what matters most. Start by identifying the end goal you want to achieve – whether it's completing a big project at work or mastering a new skill.

Then, break that goal down into smaller tasks that are easier to accomplish. For example, if you're working on a big presentation at work, start by outlining what you want to cover in each section.

From there, create a rough draft of each section before going back and refining your work. By focusing on one small task at a time – rather than trying to tackle everything at once – you'll be able to stay motivated and keep making progress towards your end goal.

Another tip is to use tools like calendars or task lists which help you manage all those different steps in an organized way. Even better if they allow collaboration with co-workers or family members that can provide feedback or moral support along the way.

Be flexible enough for changes

Remember: life is unpredictable! Even the most well-planned goals can be disrupted by unexpected events.

That's why it's important to be flexible and adaptable when it comes to setting goals and priorities. If something isn't working out, don't be afraid to reassess your approach or pivot in a new direction altogether.

At the end of the day, setting realistic goals and prioritizing tasks is all about finding a balance that works for you. By breaking down larger goals into smaller steps and being open to change along the way, you'll be able to achieve more without sacrificing your mental health or well-being in the process.

Practicing Self-Care and Mindfulness

The Benefits of Self-Care Practices such as Exercise, Meditation, or Therapy

Perfectionism can be exhausting and stressful, taking a toll on both our mental and physical health. To counteract these negative effects, it's important to practice self-care regularly. This means taking time for ourselves to engage in activities that help us relax, recharge, and feel good about ourselves.

One of the most effective self-care practices is exercise. Physical activity has been shown to reduce stress levels, improve mood, increase energy levels, and boost confidence.

Whether it's going for a walk outside, hitting the gym or trying out a new fitness class – incorporating exercise into your routine can have a profound impact on your overall well-being. Meditation is another powerful self-care technique that can help combat perfectionism.

The practice of mindfulness meditation involves focusing your attention on the present moment without judgment. By doing so regularly for just a few minutes each day, you can learn to manage stress better and cultivate compassion towards yourself.

Seeking therapy or counseling can be an excellent way to address perfectionistic tendencies if they are causing significant distress in one's life. A professional therapist can help you identify the root cause of your perfectionism and develop strategies for overcoming it.

Incorporating Mindfulness Techniques into Your Daily Routine

Mindfulness is all about being present in the moment without distraction or judgment. This practice helps us gain clarity into our thoughts and emotions, helping us cope better with challenges that come our way.

One simple way to incorporate mindfulness techniques into your daily routine is by taking short breaks throughout the day to simply focus on your breath or observe sensations in your body like tension or relaxation. Another great way to cultivate mindfulness is by creating rituals around everyday activities like drinking coffee or brushing teeth – this helps bring awareness to things we do on autopilot and helps us stay focused on the present moment.

Incorporating mindfulness into your daily routine can significantly improve your well-being, even if done in small doses. By being present and mindful, you'll be able to detect any negative thought patterns that come up due to perfectionism and replace them with more compassionate self-talk.

Overall, practicing self-care and mindfulness is essential for overcoming perfectionism before it causes harm to our career or personal life. By taking care of ourselves and incorporating these practices into our daily routine, we can build resilience, boost confidence, and achieve greater success both personally and professionally.

Seeking Support from Others

The Value of Seeking Support

Perfectionism can be a lonely and isolating experience, leaving individuals feeling like they are the only ones struggling. However, seeking support from colleagues, mentors, or friends can help individuals feel less alone and give them the opportunity to share their experiences. Not only can this provide emotional relief, but it can also help individuals gain new perspectives on their situation.

When others share their own struggles and triumphs with perfectionism, it can be a powerful reminder that no one is perfect and that everyone has room for growth. In addition to providing emotional support, seeking support from others can also open up opportunities for professional growth.

Colleagues and mentors may have insights into how to navigate workplace challenges or opportunities for skill development. Networking within professional organizations or attending relevant workshops and conferences can also provide valuable resources for overcoming perfectionism.

Professional Organizations and Support Groups as Resources

There are many organizations and groups that offer resources specifically designed to help individuals overcome perfectionism. For example, the International Coach Federation offers coaching services focused on helping individuals develop a growth mindset and overcome perfectionism in all areas of life.

Another organization worth exploring is the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), which provides educational resources on anxiety disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) which often goes hand-in-hand with perfectionism. Support groups such as Overeaters Anonymous (OA) or Workaholics Anonymous can also be helpful resources for those struggling with compulsive behaviors driven by perfectionist tendencies.

These groups offer a safe space where members come together to share their experiences in overcoming these behaviors while receiving guidance from professionals who have dealt with similar issues before. Seeking support is an important step in overcoming perfectionism before it hurts your career.

Whether through colleagues or friends who understand what you're going through or through professional organizations and support groups that specialize in dealing with perfectionism, help is out there. Remember, perfectionism is a common struggle and there is no shame in asking for help.


Overcoming perfectionism is an essential step towards achieving success in your career. It's important to note that it's never too late to start working on yourself and changing unhealthy patterns of behavior. By understanding your triggers, challenging negative thoughts, setting realistic goals and priorities, practicing self-care and mindfulness, and seeking support from others, you can take control of your perfectionism and use it to drive you towards excellence rather than hinder your progress.

It's also important to remember that overcoming perfectionism is a process that takes time and effort. Don't be discouraged if you experience setbacks or find yourself slipping back into old habits.

Be patient with yourself and give yourself credit for the progress you make along the way. In the end, embracing imperfection can actually lead to greater success in your career.

It allows for greater risk-taking, innovation, creativity, and ultimately a more fulfilling life. So don't let perfectionism hold you back any longer – take charge of your mindset today!

How to Overcome Perfectionism before it Hurts Your Career - blog title

How to Overcome Perfectionism Before it Hurts Your Career: Podcast Episode

The following is a direct transcript of an old podcast episode titled “How to Overcome Perfectionism Before it Hurts Your Career. This podcast aired on “The Geeky Mompreneur”, which is no longer being updated.


Hi there and welcome to episode six of The Geeky Mompreneur, the podcast especially for work at home mothers. I am your host, Naomi Nakashima, from the blog over at And I'm really excited about this episode because in this episode I am going to dive deep into an issue that affects so many of us: perfectionism.

Now I know, nobody really likes making mistakes. In fact, I can almost guarantee you that when someone says they do, it's because they had to learn how to make mistakes and had to come to terms with the idea that mistakes might be helpful.

And yes, they really can be helpful.

But understanding the value of making mistakes is not the same thing as liking them, so no one really sets out to make a mistake. We just don't enjoy it. So it's no wonder that most work at home mothers try to make sure everything is perfect. But that need to try to make everything perfect can be a detriment…not only to our mental health, but to our careers as well. In fact, perfectionism could be holding you back from achieving your ultimate goals.

We're not just talking about the run-of-the-mill reasons why perfectionism can be bad for you – chances are you already know all the reasons it can be bad for you. As a recovering perfectionist myself, I knew exactly how bad perfectionism was for my mindset, my anxiety levels, and my mental health all around.

Now we're talking about how perfectionism can actually be hurting your career – keeping you from your ultimate goals. And that is not okay.

Let me take a minute to point out here that if anyone else stepped in between you and your ultimate goals, you would kick them to the curb, right? There is no way you would let those people stay there, knowing that to do so they would purposely keep you from writing that book, launching that course, building that website, or starting your company. If you knew someone was purposely making it so you couldn't build that passive income, or get new clients, or finally make enough money working from home to be able to quit your day job, you wouldn't wait a minute to tell them to quit.

So that's what I am telling you right now — Quit. Being a perfectionist is the same thing as standing in a mirror and purposely stopping yourself from ever achieving any of your business goals. So look in the mirror, and tell yourself to stop it.

How does perfectionism do this? Well, I'm glad you asked. Let's take a couple minutes to go over this.

First, have you ever heard the saying, “look before you leap?” That's right, that old wisdom that tells us to pause and consider the consequences before we go diving headlong into a new situation. And while it might seem like good sense, it can also keep you from taking risks.

I'll tell you right now, taking risks is a good thing. This whole idea of playing it safe until you know what the outcome will be is paralyzing. Even with the intense research, the fact of the matter is you are not a fortune teller – so there is no way to ever know for certain just how a situation will turn out.

Let me repeat that: no matter how much research you do, there is no way for you to ever know exactly how a situation will turn out.

Fear of the unknown stunts careers all the time: the employee who will only ask for a promotion when they know they are a shoe-in; the entrepreneur who will only start a business once everything is set up perfect; or the freelancer who will only bid on a job when they know they have the best chances of winning the job.

If you are stuck on the idea that you cannot leap until you know what the outcome will be, then you are never gonna never take that leap. Now, that's okay if your goal is to stay safe and in the middle – after all, there is a reason they call them “risks.” But the impact this has on your business should be pretty clear to you right now: if you never take risks, you never grow. You cannot grow in your career until you stop looking and take a leap.

Second, perfectionism is horribly inefficient. I mean, horribly. Do you remember that saying “if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself?” I promise, I'm not just trying to throw a bunch of old sayings at you – these just happen to be relevant, and they're saying that I hear all the time. Even in sitcoms — television shows meant to be light and entertaining and yet they are inadvertently feeding your perfectionism.

Back to my point – if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. This old saying is tied to both control and perfectionism – two things that will keep you busy, busy, busy but not very productive. Clinging to this belief makes it harder for you to move from one task to another. Attention to details is a wonderful, valuable thing. Obsession over every little detail is time-consuming and soul-crushing – but not necessarily effective.

No one can do it all, and do it all perfectly, all by themselves. And trying to be the person who proves that wrong will keep you from being able to do the things you need to do to really grow in your career.

And finally, perfectionism makes it difficult to leave work at work – something work at home mothers already struggle with. That need to get everything done perfectly seeps into our personal lives.

When I was a perfectionist, literally every waking minute was about work or school. My showers were spent thinking about how to fix that thing I couldn't quite figure out yesterday. I drank my coffee while obsessing over just how I was going to write a particular scene or write my newsletter. I even laid awake for hours just reviewing everything I had done that day and anything that wasn't perfect ate at me and kept me up all night. It's still exhausting just to think about it.

And this level of obsession leads to anxiety and fast burnout. Our brains were not built to agonize over our work 24/7. They need a break — and perfectionism makes it nearly impossible for our brains to take that much-needed (and likely well-deserved) break.

Okay, so, we all know and recognize that being a perfectionist is hurting us and our careers, right? But what can we do about it? Well, I'll be getting to that in just a moment. But first. I'd like to talk just a bit about how a perfectionist's mind actually works.

For this, I want you to think about the grading process we went through in school. Most schools use a scale of 0 to 100, with “passing” being somewhere in the middle between 60 and 75 depending on the school you went to. And then there were the different degrees of passing: there was barely passing by with a D, or a C, Bs, and then at the top were the A's. So as I go through the way a perfectionist's mind works, think about that grading scale.

Most people are able to translate that grading scale into their real life. They live on a scale of 0 to 100 and they use various levels of passing or failing based on that scale.

But the perfectionists never make that translation. Instead of living on a scale of 0 to 100, they live on a scale of 0 or 100. Imagine that: 0 or 100. If it's not perfect, it is a flat and utter failure.

Now, the reason I want you to think of this scale is because most of the time if I tell someone about the lack of degrees within a perfectionist's mind, they'll agree with me at how impossible it is to not have those gradients. Is 99 really failing? Or even 98? How about an 87?

No. Obviously, these are not failing grades. Yet perfectionists tend to punish themselves as though they were — until they give themselves permission to change the scales.

So now this is how you're going to break free of that perfectionism. I want you to think of a number between 0 and 100. No, you know what? No. You don't even have to be that broad, let's do baby steps. Think of a number between 95 and 100. And yes, it can be 99 if you really want it to be.

That number is your new scale. That number becomes the lowest “grade” you can live with. Want to know what my number is? It's 95 — but I've gotten better!! When I first did this exercise, I chose 98.

But now watch, this is what you're going to do with your new scale.

Strive to do as good a job as you can do, because I know how useless it is to tell a perfectionist not to do something perfectly. But if you can't get it perfect in a timely manner without stressing, I want you to look at that task and ask yourself: is it passing? Does it meet your minimum threshold? Is it as perfect as you can live with?

And if the answer is yes — it is 99% of the way there, or 97%, or 95%, then stop. You've passed. And if you did make a mistake? That's okay, too, because you're allowed to mess up the other 1, 3, or 5 percent of the time. This is exactly what I do everytime I see that I've made a mistake. I toss it over my shoulder and say, “that is part of the 5% that I am allowed to mess up.”

You will be amazed at how freeing this is, to even just have that small degree of permission to mess up will ultimately make you more productive, efficient, and you'll climb toward your ultimate goals faster than ever.

And that brings this episode of The Geeky Mompreneur to a close. Thank you so much for listening. If you enjoyed this episode, I hope you will let me know by stopping over in iTunes and rating, subscribing, and leaving me a review. And don't forget to join me over at my blog,, to let me know how your battle against perfectionism is going.

2 thoughts on “Breaking Free from the Shackles of Perfectionism: A Guide to Thriving in Your Career”

  1. As a lifelong perfectionist, I can totally relate to this! I think one of the most important lessons I’ve learned this last year is that so I often I was the one getting in my own way and stopping myself from pursuing my goals or taking a risk because I was afraid of failure. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Yes!! That’s exactly why I say, you wouldn’t let anyone else scare you away from your goals. Good for you for seeing that and getting out of your way 🙂

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