4 Reasons Why Perfectionism Can Hamper Success

Throughout the last couple of days I have been procrastinating over writing my next blog post. At the time I thought my apparent bout of ‘writers’ block’ could be due to the holiday vibe kicking in. However, on closer inspection of my true thoughts and feelings, I realised my procrastination was a direct result of my good ol’ friend perfectionism, stopping in to make her acquaintance with me again.

The whispers of ‘advice’ translated in my mind something like:

“You don’t have enough research or information to write a blog on this topic”
“You will make mistakes, and there is no room for mistakes here”
“This topic won’t be good enough to blog about – and no one is going to read it, so you might as well not do it”

The reality is procrastination and perfectionism are close allies and often go hand-in-hand.

For me, where there is procrastination, it is most often because her sister, perfectionism, is standing right behind chanting “there is no room for mistakes or a less than stellar performance.”

Perfectionism is defined by Wikipedia as an individual “striving for flawlessness and setting excessively high performance standards, accompanied by overly critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others’ evaluations.”

Like many human characteristics which hold us back in life, the trouble with perfectionism is it will have served us to some greater (or lesser) extent in our lives.

Several years ago my husband tentatively pointed out I might have a slight dose of perfectionism (yes, he is a brave man). He introduced me to a brilliant book called Perfectionism: A Sure Cure for Happinessand the insights I gained from reading this book were sobering.

Secretly I had always been proud of my perfectionist streak. After all, is that not what had been the cause of my great performances and achievements in life? Surely my top grades, stellar performance appraisals, strict rule following and (my all-time favourite) constant people pleasing were attributed to my perfectionist nature?

As I read the book and learned more about this concept, I discovered perfectionism is in fact, counterproductive to achieving success. My most alarming discovery was I had been projecting my perfectionist tendencies onto my children, my team, and most probably my husband as well.

Here are my 4 top reasons why perfectionism can hamper success, leadership, and prevent us from achieving what we want in life:

1.  It is paralysing. Take my own example, for instance. I know too well the addictive nature of not wanting to put something out for the world to see due to the risk of it being scrutinized, or not being ‘up to scratch’.

2.  Perfectionism can lead us to miss out on great opportunities. The worry, anxiety and time wasting involved in over-analyzing whether or not what we produce is good enough, may lead us to hesitate – and miss the boat altogether.

3.  It is self-destructive.  There is no such thing as perfect. If you are a struggling perfectionist, ensure you remember this statement.  Perfection is an illusionit is simply unobtainable. If we neglect to realise this statement, and continue to strive for that which does not exist (i.e. perfection), the shame and judgement we cast upon ourselves compounded by self-criticism and negative self-talk, may limit our self confidence and potential.

4.  Perfectionism can alienate. This is especially important to consider if you are leading others.

Are you putting the same unrealistic expectations on others as you do on yourself?

What impact is your perfectionism having on others around you?

Imagine for a moment the freedom of eliminating the pursuit of perfection from your life – and realising there is no such thing as perfect, you are exactly as you are meant to be.

In my next blog post I will talk about perfectionist indicators, and how to recognise it when it appears.

As a ‘recovering perfectionist’ I would love to hear from others who have also been hampered by it.

How has perfectionism stymied your success or growth as a leader – and what steps have you taken to overcome it?


  1. The Leader's Digest on January 21, 2013 at 11:39 pm

    Hi Kate,

    The blog post has just gone up – http://theleadersdigest.wordpress.com/2013/01/21/one-step-forward-two-steps-back/

    Thanks again for your insights and inspiration for this! I look forward to hearing from you again soon.


  2. Kate Peterson on January 16, 2013 at 12:33 am

    Hi Suzi, your mention of the ‘Sure Cure’ book prompted me to re-read it, having been given the same book years ago when first considering the distinct possibility that my re-working of a team members presentation (in the pursuit of making it just a tad more effective, of course) could be less than empowering for him! The concept was so sobering for me, at the time, that I thought I could tick that lesson off my ‘to do’ list forever (dreams were clearly free way back then…)
    Having been prompted by your blog, my re-read and my conscience however, I can see that forever was a beautiful but highly optimistic thought and wonder whether you have any pearls of wisdom for keeping ourselves true to our reformed behaviour? Cheers, Kate.

    • The Leader's Digest on January 18, 2013 at 7:03 am

      Hi Kate, thanks for sharing your own experience of battling perfectionism. I laughed knowingly when I read about your desire to ‘get it off your to do list forever’. Been there, done that! I can only offer what has worked for me personally and others I know, and perhaps give you some questions to ask yourself which may provide you with some of your own insights. I started compiling these for you however my response has now grown beyond a simple comment, so I have decided to turn the topic into a blog post. I will let you know when it is up, early next week. Thanks for the inspiration Kate, I look forward to your thoughts on the blog.

  3. Heath Brown on January 14, 2013 at 9:29 pm

    These are well chosen words and it is wonderful to hear that I’m not alone in my condition. Paralysis through perfectionism is my greatest hurdle and I’m very keen to hear more on this topics.

    Many thanks

    • The Leader's Digest on January 15, 2013 at 1:50 am

      Hi Heath, thanks for your feedback – I like your description ‘paralysis through perfectionism’ and I’m glad you found the content useful. I hope to explore this topic in more detail, so keep an eye out for future posts. Cheers, Suzi.

  4. J Neville-TeRito (@JuanitaNeville) on January 10, 2013 at 3:06 am

    Great blog Suzi. Unfortunately I was procrastinating on my to do list, so it was a lovely distraction to get me refocused.

    • The Leader's Digest on January 14, 2013 at 8:19 am

      Brilliant – so glad I could help, after all, that’s what it’s all about. Cheers, Suzi.

  5. Doug Paulin on January 10, 2013 at 2:58 am

    Good one

    Nga mihi

  6. Andrea Bruce on January 10, 2013 at 6:49 am

    Great read, thank you Suzi!

    • The Leader's Digest on January 14, 2013 at 8:20 am

      Thanks Andrea, it’s always so nice to have your feedback. I hope you found it useful. Cheers, Suzi.

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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