Is Perfectionism Excellence or Self- Abuse?


For the longest time I have prided myself on my detail orientation. I have been complimented on the same by my colleagues. And every time this has happened I have smiled secretly to myself, feeling smug in the theory that its my drive for details and the ability to go through things with a fine-toothed comb that I have been always confident about the quality of my output!


And maybe it is true to a certain degree. But also, maybe there is another side to the same coin. I remember my team member once told me that I spend a lot of effort to go to the depth of everything. While I took it as a compliment at the time, I am wiser now :) I know that in my pursuit of perfection (which I mis-named as excellence), I lived in a lot of stress, self-doubt and drove my team and loved ones crazy!


Consider this:


Mr A, my super successful coaching client shared his secret of success with me that gave me an "aha moment" He said that he had learned in school that he was not especially brilliant and would never score a 95%. He learned to make sure that he was clear 80%...that is how he studied, that is how he scored and that was his mantra in his corporate career...."don't give up the good for the great, its important to keep moving ahead"


I can safely say that i was jolted out of my smugness and forced to pay attention because he was undoubtedly a great achiever in what he did.


Mr B, my other successful client who had led a business as CEO, was diametrically the opposite. He set very high standards for himself and his team...his bold business goals would make a certain Mr. Welch blink! But two years in a row, the goals did not materialize. When I diagnosed the issue, his senior team expressed their frustration in terms of his ability to take decisions. He procrastinated, he asked for data, and then for some more. He simply sat on stuff! If his first line took decisions, he found a 100 faults in everything they did. He was difficult, nay impossible to please.


This was my first brush with a perfectionist leader...who in the name of excellence was paralyzed and suffering...as was his team and organization.


In a nutshell, I saw the following outcomes of his perfectionist streak

  1. Procrastination on critical issues

  2. Insatiable hunger for more and more data to give him the security that he would make the right decision...Analysis -Paralysis

  3. Frustration in team members due to inaction/ waiting for decisions

  4. Lack of accountability in team members as they did not want to be subject to his harsh judgments,,,they would rather just "Do as Told"

  5. A culture of risk aversion down the ranks of the organization, centralization of all decisions & power --basically a huge waste of resources!

  6. And most importantly, he was a stressed out leader! He reported that he was unable to sleep and felt that he was walking through the day with a huge burden on his shoulders. He constantly berated himself on all the things he was unable to do, after being in office for 12 hours a day! I can safely say that the person he criticized the most and demanded the most from was HIMSELF!!

Pursuit of Excellence is a much more joyful state, where the individual takes failure as a learning and does not beat himself up for less than perfect outcomes. The focus is on moving ahead, learning, growth, enjoying the journey as much as the final outcome. It is a more relaxed state, enabling balanced thinking, establishing stretch but attainable goals and encouraging oneself as well as accepting limitations.



Perfectionism is different from pursuit of excellence because it comes from a different space in the person. Perfectionism is from the space of fear of failure or of never being "good enough" Perfectionists may thus get frozen even before they start something or keep postponing because they are secretly afraid that even they won't be able to meet their own impossible standards.


In a nutshell, perfectionism is a secret saboteur, like driving a sports car with the handbrake on! You may travel, but not as far enough as you possibly could!


What I have come to realize that all of our social, educational & familial conditioning has set many of us up for perfection, and sealed our happiness forever. How can we truly be happy, if there's a voice in the head nit-picking on everything we do, how we do, what we don't do... Imagine the guilt and the lack of self-love we are carrying in the deeper recesses of our subconscious mind, for not meeting our own high expectations, for procrastinating, for not being perfect! Imagine how liberating it would be to just release that hand brake and allow the sports car to zoom the way it was meant to be!


Here are some tips on Overcoming Perfectionism



In addition to the above, you can also actively work on yourself by discovering the roots of such beliefs through this upcoming 2 day workshop in Gurgaon & Bengaluru.


Reclaim Your Inner Potential


This will help loosen the grip of your perfectionist self so that you can unconditionally love yourself and, truly become the best version of yourself.


Click here to register


Happy New Year and Cheers to new beginnings!