Career Fortitude



When I was young I was taught to always do my best and whatever I was doing, it needed to be done correctly.  “If you’re going to do something, do it right” was a common mantra from my childhood that was passed down by my parents.  I often struggled to comprehend the difference between “trying” and “doing” my best.  If I tried my best and failed, that meant I had failed to “do” the thing I was expected to do.  Instead of using the opportunity to learn and grow, I retreated into shame and took the failure personally.  Instead of embracing what I learned from “trying”, I only focused on how I failed at “doing”.

Recovering Perfectionist

If this pattern of seeking perfectionism goes unchecked it can follow us into adulthood and hold us back from achieving our true potential.  When I first heard the term “Recovering Perfectionist” spoken by Brené Brown, it struck a nerve deep within me.  I was trying to recover from something but I couldn’t put a name to it.  I knew I often got stuck in shame spirals but struggled to pin down where it was manifesting from.  I was paralyzed by the fear of not only failing at the big parts of life but also the trivial parts as well.  Any outcome that didn’t meet the expectation I had set for myself led to negative self-talk, low self-esteem, and anxiety.

When perfectionism becomes a problem

Perfectionism is an inclination or belief that everything must be flawless and without errors.  It involves setting impossible standards for ourselves and constantly striving to meet or exceed them.  Often praised as a trait of high achievers, perfectionism has become a driver of poor engagement and performance in the modern workplace.  A culture that praises perfection can lead to a host of negative consequences for both individuals and organizations.

The Impact of Perfectionism on Mental Health

While the pursuit of excellence is commendable, perfectionism can have severe consequences for mental well-being:

  • Anxiety and Stress: Perfectionists constantly worry about making mistakes or not being good enough. This leads to chronic anxiety and stress.
  • Low Self-Esteem: Always falling short of unattainable standards can erode self-esteem.
  • Procrastination: Fear of not achieving perfection can lead to procrastination. Individuals may avoid tasks to avoid potential failure.
  • Burnout: The relentless pursuit of perfection can lead to burnout as individuals push themselves beyond their limits, neglecting self-care and rest.
  • Negative Impact on Relationships: Perfectionists may set unrealistic expectations for their partners or friends, leading to strained relationships.


As I reflect on my actions of today, this week, and the past month; the good, bad, and neutral events come to mind.  It’s the moments when I wasn’t perfect that often stand out and attempt to overtake the joyous moments.  I begin to ruminate on the moments when I made a mistake, made a bad decision, or was not in total control of my emotions.  I must pause and force myself to accept these recent imperfections and realize that continuing to let this criticism cloud my thoughts will only lead to further self-criticism.  This is what being a recovering perfectionist is like.  When it comes to perfectionism in the workplace, the impact on our well-being and relationships with others can be strained to the point of anxiety and seclusion.

How perfectionism holds you back in the workplace

There are several detrimental effects of perfectionism in the workplace, including reduced productivity, stifled creativity, deteriorating mental health, and a toxic work environment.

Reduced Productivity and Efficiency

Perfectionism may appear to boost productivity by encouraging individuals to produce flawless work. However, perfectionism can lead to analysis paralysis and procrastination. The relentless pursuit of perfection often results in an excessive amount of time being spent on a task, far beyond what is necessary. The fear of making mistakes cripples the ability to be productive.

Diminished Creativity and Innovation

Perfectionism tends to stifle creativity and innovation in the workplace. Employees who constantly fear judgment for their ideas or anticipate criticism may be reluctant to take risks or propose unconventional solutions. As a result, the organization may miss out on groundbreaking ideas and fresh perspectives that could have propelled them to greater heights. Innovation often thrives in an environment where failure is seen as an opportunity to learn and grow, not as a sign of incompetence or weakness.

Increased Stress and Burnout

Perfectionism is closely linked to elevated stress levels and a higher risk of burnout among employees. The constant pressure to meet unrealistic standards and exceed expectations can lead to chronic stress, anxiety, and fatigue.  The compounding effects of stress can ultimately lead to burnout, negatively affecting job performance and overall well-being.

Impaired Mental Health

The detrimental impact of perfectionism on mental health cannot be understated. Individuals who struggle with perfectionism often experience feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt, and fear of failure. The constant self-criticism and the fear of judgment from others can lead to depression and anxiety disorders.

Strained Interpersonal Relationships

Perfectionists often have excessively high expectations not only for themselves but also for their colleagues. They may become overly critical, demanding, and inflexible, which can create a tense and toxic work environment.  When employees feel judged and unsupported, the overall morale and team dynamics suffer, hindering the organization’s success.

Hindrance to Learning and Growth

Ironically, the pursuit of perfection can obstruct personal and professional growth. When individuals are overly focused on avoiding mistakes, they may avoid taking on new challenges that could provide valuable learning experiences. Growth often involves stepping outside of one’s comfort zone and embracing opportunities for learning through trial and error. Perfectionists may miss out on valuable lessons that come from taking risks and learning from failure.

Overcoming Perfectionism

Recognizing and overcoming perfectionism requires a conscious effort to change one’s mindset and behavior. Here are some strategies to help combat perfectionism:

  • Set Realistic Goals: Establish achievable, yet challenging, goals that are based on personal growth rather than comparing yourself to others.
  • Embrace Mistakes: View mistakes as learning opportunities and stepping stones toward improvement. Understand that making errors is a natural part of the learning process.
  • Practice Self-Compassion: Treat yourself with kindness and understanding, just as you would with a close friend who faced setbacks.
  • Focus on Effort, Not Outcomes: Celebrate the effort and hard work put into a task, rather than solely focusing on the result.
  • Challenge Negative Thoughts: Challenge negative thought patterns associated with perfectionism. Replace them with more balanced and realistic perspectives.
  • Seek Support: Share your feelings with supportive friends, family members, or consider seeking professional help from a therapist or counselor.
  • Set Time Limits: Allocate specific time frames for tasks, preventing overthinking and overworking on a single project.


Organizations that encourage smart risk-taking and creativity by their employees will also reap the benefits of embracing imperfection.  Fostering an environment that allows employees to fail while being supported through the growing process can build an environment rich in emotionally intelligent workers that feel comfortable as they continue to grow.

For us recovering perfectionist some extra guidance and patience is needed from co-workers and leaders.  Great leaders can identify the fears of those they lead and incorporate strategies to guide and support them through braving the uncomfortable and difficult process of failure.  Fear is the limiting factor for so many professionals.  An inherent fear can stifle learning, growth, and development.  While progressing in a career path is highly sought after, the perfectionist tendencies that stalk our ambition must not be overlooked.  Not facing the fear of failure and embracing the difficult moments of imperfection can paralyze creativity, innovation, and our ability to achieve our goals.

Philip Hilt – Career Coach

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