The Myth of Perfection

Is perfection possible?

I tend to think that to achieve it is like infinity which has no measuring device. Therefore the use of the word ‘perfection’ is simply meant to describe extraordinary efforts which enable us to produce work of high quality and precision, as judged by our peers.

Apparently, a new study shows that trying too hard will get you nowhere or, at least, not as far as you think. Employees who put pressure on themselves in the workplace as they pursue perfection are being driven to extreme stress and burnout.

Perfectionism, a personality trait that features excessively high personal standards coupled with harsh self-criticism, is usually associated with virtue, high achievement and being conscientious. The reality, say researchers, is that perfectionists are more likely to find themselves on a dangerous path.

A study, published recently in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Review, is the first to assess the full effect of perfectionism. Far from giving its adherents the competitiveness, it is largely destructive and can lead to poorer performance at work, according to researchers from York St John University and the University of Bath.

They also found that the trait was closely associated with burnout – a syndrome associated with chronic stress that manifests as extreme fatigue, perceived reduced accomplishments and eventual detachment. The link is particularly strong in employment settings with perfectionist tendencies exasperated when poor performance carries significant costs.

Andrew Hill, associate professor and Head of Taught Postgraduate Programmes at York St John University, was lead author of the review. ‘Rather than being more productive, perfectionists are likely to find the workplace quite difficult and stressful,’ he said. ‘Our research suggests that if perfectionists are unable to cope with the demands and uncertainties in the workplace, they will experience a range of emotional difficulties.’

According to Thomas Curran, a lecturer in sport psychology at the University of Bath: ‘As a society we tend to hold perfectionism as a sign of virtue or high achievements yet our findings show that perfectionism is a largely destructive trait. Instead, diligence, flexibility and perseverance are far better qualities.’

The researchers also say that such methods, as well as greater focus on a balanced working-life, depressurised working environments and a greater acceptance of failure, could help to mitigate the negative effects associated with perfectionism.

As I said at the outset, perfectionism is partly a myth, but those who seek it are so stressed that they become obsessively boring without realising it, and their quality of life deteriorates to such an extent that they are no longer able to enjoy any achievements that their lives attain.

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