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Perfectionism is a Superpower

I’ve often called myself a Recovering Perfectionist who moved to Europe to learn how to enjoy life.  Being a perfectionist has often been a double-edged sword in my career: the quality of my outputs tends to be high no matter what I do, making me a great person to have in your team… but my high standards can also make others around me feel less-than or ashamed for not meeting expectations.  Over time, I came to hate my perfectionism because I zoned in on the negative effects.

It took me a while to see that perfectionism is actually a powerful energy.  It is an excellent servant and a horrible master. If you know how to harness it correctly, it can be a superpower.

I was inspired by the perspectives that psychotherapist Katherine Morgan Schafler shares in “The Perfectionist’s Guide to Losing Control”.  As a therapist who has worked with perfectionists in New York City and at Tech companies for years, she brought important nuance to perfectionism that I hadn’t heard before.

She identifies 5 types of perfectionists:

  • Intense Perfectionists: Effortlessly direct and razor-focused on achieving their goal.  They are great at generating results and outcomes.  Left unchecked, their standards can go from high to impossible.  At the first sign of trouble, they can be punitive to themselves and others for not achieving impossible standards. 
  • Classic Perfectionists: highly organized, reliable, consistent and buttoned-up.  They add structure to any environment they’re in.  Left unchecked, they struggle to adapt to spontaneity or changes in a routine. 
  • Parisian Perfectionists: people pleasers, easygoing, uncomplicated.  They are great at interpersonal connection and making others feel seen and comfortable.  Left unchecked, their desire to connect can become toxic people-pleasing.
  • Procrastinator Perfectionists: overly prepared, waiting for the right time.  They wait for the conditions to be perfect before they start working on their plans.  Left unchecked, their preparation hits diminishing returns, leading to inaction and indecision. 
  • Messy Perfectionists: Quick to start, slow to finish.  They love new beginnings and are superstar idea generators.  Left unchecked, they struggle to stay focused and follow-through, and spread their energy too thin. 

Curious to know which type of perfectionist you are?  Take the quiz here, then come back to learn more about what you’re meant to learn.

How each type can grow, according to Schafler:

  • Intense Perfectionists: Come back to your ‘why’ and explore why you’re striving for your goals.  If you are seeking external markers of success, redirect your energy towards goals that are more aligned to your values.  This will help you find joy and fulfillment in what you’re doing in the end.
  • Classic Perfectionists: Don’t conflate rigidity with inner strength.  Your overly-structured life leaves little room for joy, new lessons, and different kinds of people.
  • Parisian Perfectionists: Learn how to express your wants and needs, even if it means asserting yourself more in your relationships. Learn how to ask for help when you need it. 
  • Procrastinator Perfectionists: Accept that now is as good as any time to start something.  The process may not be as fun or ideal as you imagined, and this is a reality you’ll have to accept. 
  • Messy Perfectionists: Practice channeling your enthusiasm into single, intentional projects with easily achievable goals.  Ideas don’t mean anything if they don’t come to fruition.

I’ve had to learn how to embrace my perfectionism as a superpower and a gift, through a lot of inner work and reprogramming.  Developing a healthier relationship with perfectionism is especially important for women, who are often punished and pathologized for power and ambition.

Here are some things to appreciate about healthy and adaptive perfectionists:

  • They are ambitious: they want to contribute, create, and grow.
  • They move the world forward and are dissatisfied with the status quo.
  • They are inspired by the highest ideals and potential in themselves and others.
  • They are pulled towards something bigger than themselves – an ideal or an infinite game that is worthy of a lifetime of striving.
  • They don’t shy away from a challenge – they conquer them with zest.
  • They embrace a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset.
  • They learn how to pulse between rest and productivity.
  • They trust in themselves and depersonalize their setbacks.
  • They remove ‘should’ from their vocabulary and instead operate from a place of flow and joy.

When leaders like you and I can come from a place of healthy adaptive perfectionism, we can change the world.  I truly believe that, and I love supporting leaders to step into their full power in this way. 

Are you ready to embrace your perfectionism for the greater good?  Schedule a call to get started.

Hi, I’m Nancy and I partner with mid-senior leaders and changemakers who are invested in solutions for positive change.  I offer custom leadership development programs, tools and practices, and deeper transformations to help them navigate their career with more purpose, effectiveness, and confidence.

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