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It’s amazing that people admit to being perfectionists. To me, it’s a disorder, not unlike obsessive-compulsive disorder. And like obsessive-compulsive disorder, perfectionism messes you up.
It also messes up the people around you, because perfectionists lose perspective as they get more and more mired in details.
We can never achieve perfection — any of us. Yet so many people keep trying to reach this elusive goal and they drive themselves crazy in the process. So cut it out. Accept that it’s okay to do a mediocre job on a certain percentage of your work. If you need convincing, consider this: Perfectionism is a risk factor for depression. No kidding. Sydney Blatt, psychologist at Yale University, finds that perfectionists are more likely to kill themselves
than regular, mediocre-performing people.
Here are three steps to take to avoid the perfectionism trap:
1. Allow yourself to be wrong in front of others.
Try having an opinion that is wrong. Tell a story that is stupid. Wear clothes that don’t match. Turn in a project that you can’t fully explain. People will not think you’re stupid. People will think you spent your time and energy doing something else — something that meant more to you.
We all have many competing demands. We do not presume to know other people’s demands. But we are all sure of one thing: Our work is often not the most important thing on our plate.
Also, you’ll notice that people are not particularly vested in you being right. They don’t care if you’re right or wrong in what you do or say. They just want you to get stuff done well enough that they can do what they need to do. And this is usually a far cry from perfection.
The other huge problem with perfectionism is that people stop learning when they’re constantly afraid of being wrong. We learn by making mistakes. The only way we understand ourselves is to test our limits. If we don’t want anyone to know we make mistakes, which is how perfectionists tend to behave, we are actually hiding our true selves.
2. Being hard working is not the same as being a perfectionist.
You can be a hard-working person and cut corners. In fact, it’s often a requirement: Smart people cut corners. The art of being a star performer is knowing which corners to cut.
Focus on your goals, and be honest with yourself about whether your goals require perfectionism along the way. A lot of times perfectionism is a way to avoid focusing on goals. Real goals, after all, almost always require a little bit of luck and assistance along the way — factors the perfectionists tend to dismiss.
3. Spend your energy making yourself likable.
And, Casciaro found that if someone does not like you, he or she will decide you’re incompetent whether you are or not. Sad, yes, but the converse is true as well. You can do a poor job and no one will notice if they like you. And, newsflash: In many instances, this is good for business — teams do better work when everyone on the team likes everyone else. So don’t worry about doing a perfect job. Do a decent job, but leave yourself enough time to manage your relationships at work. Take lunch. Participate in office politics, because office politics is really about being nice
— which, frankly, is more healthy and certainly more achievable than being perfect.
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I highly recommend Tal Ben-Shahar‘s book, The Pursuit of Perfect: How to Stop Chasing Perfection and Start Living a Richer, Happier Life, in which he explains that many people fail to lead a full and fulfilling life because they do not allow themselves “to experience the full range of human emotions” and thus limit their capacity for happiness. “They need to give themselves the permission to be human…to ground [their] dreams in reality and appreciate [their] accomplishments.” Throughout the book, Ben-Shahar refers to negative perfectionism simply as perfectionism and to positive perfectionism as optimalism. “The key difference between the Perfectionist an the Optimalist is that the former essentially rejects reality while the latter accepts it…as a natural part of life and as an experience that is inextricably linked to success.”
Penelope Trunk is the founder of three startups, most recently Brazen Careerist, a professional social network for young people. Previously she worked in marketing at Fortune 500 companies including Mattel and Hyundai. Her blog about career advice, blog.penelopetrunk.com, receives half a million visits a month and is syndicated in more than 200 newspapers. She frequently appears as a workplace commentator on CNN, 20/20 and FOX News. She’s also the author of Brazen Careerist: The New Rules for Success, a bestselling career advice book for Generation Y.
Here is an excerpt from an article written by Penelope Trunk for BNET, The CBS Interactive Business Network. To read the complete article, check out others, and/or sign up for a free subscription to one or more of the BNET newsletters, please click here.
MBA applications always go up during a bad economy. That is because business school generally attracts people who are lost, and more people who feel more lost when the bad job market is lousy.
But let’s be clear: This is not the type of recession where there are no jobs [click here] for young people. This is a recession where there are no GOOD jobs. McDonald’s is hiring in management. There is a bank teller shortage and a shortage of actuaries. There is a shortage of insurance agents. It’s just that people don’t grow up dreaming of these jobs. So they don’t take them. Instead, people who are early in their career – in that time when an MBA sounds like it might work – those people are determined to have only a good job. And if they can’t have that, they get an MBA.
The problem is that an MBA makes it worse.
There are seven reasons why you should take a bad job instead of getting an MBA.
[Here are three.]
1. Business school won’t help you be a good entrepreneur.
There is no correlation between being a good entrepreneur and going to business school. In fact, according to Saras Sarasvathy, professor at University of Virginia’s Darden Business School, the most important skill for an entrepreneur is that you know your weakness and you can find people to fill in your gaps. [Click here http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2007/04/23/you-dont-need-to-love-risk-taking-to-start-your-own-business/.%5D So you pay a bundle to go to school to learn what you don’t and how to find people who can do stuff you can’t? Sorry, that doesn’t add up. The ultimate irony: entrepreneur programs are booming at business schools [click here http://www.usnews.com/articles/education/best-business-schools/2010/07/21/schools-add-new-entrepreneur-programs-for-mba-students.html%5D.
2. You likely don’t need an MBA for what you want to do.
There are some jobs, very few, where you cannot land if you don’t have an MBA. These are mostly high-level officer-type positions in the Fortune 500. Even then, though, you probably don’t need an MBA. In fact, Forbes reports [click here http://www.forbes.com/2002/04/25/0425ceoschools.html%5D that CEOs without MBAs bring more value to investors than CEOs who went to business school.
7. Business school puts off the inevitable.
Look, it’s really hard to be an adult. You go to school for twenty years being told what to learn and what to think and when to show up, and then you get tossed into adult life and there is no one telling you what’s right for you. You have to figure it out, but you didn’t go to school for that. In fact, school is the opposite of that. So it looks fine to be lost in your 20s. This is when everyone is taking time to figure things out. It does not look fine to spend $150,000 to go back to school just to put off the hard knocks of figuring out where you belong in the workforce. Face reality. Join the workforce.
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Penelope Trunk is the founder of three startups — most recently, Brazen Careerist [click here] a social network to help young people manage their careers. Her career advice appears in more than 200 newspapers. In a review of this blog, BusinessWeek called Penelope’s writing “poetic.”