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Overcoming Toxic Perfectionism

Updated: Nov 3

By Molly Kozlowski, PR/Media Coordinator, Fall 2020



As a member of an industry that values detailed editing, multiple revisions, and strong attention to detail, there is a good chance you might call yourself a perfectionist. 

While your pursuit of perfection can provide motivation and help you deliver quality work, it is also important to keep it in check. Our drive to do and be the best can also become a toxic influence, sucking the joy out of the creative process and leading to burnout.

As a lifelong perfectionist myself, I can attest that learning to let go is not easy for brains wired to worry. However, here are some valuable strategies that have helped me sharpen my focus and boost my confidence:

Set Limits: 

While making sure your work is fine-tuned and properly edited is important, perfectionists often have a hard time recognizing when it is time to stop. When you start a project with the expectation of achieving the “perfect” result, tasks that should take a few hours can turn into day-long burdens. 

To prevent yourself from becoming overwhelmed, set clear micro-deadlines and expectations for yourself before you begin. This could mean setting a timer that reminds you to move onto the next step (or at least take a break), placing a limit on the number of times you read over your work before turning it in, or making a list of tangible benchmarks that will let you know when your work is ready for submission.

Look for Opportunities to Fail: 

While mastering certain skills to perfection may make you feel secure, it does not help you prepare for inevitable mistakes and can trap you inside your comfort zone. 

Whether you decide to take on an intimidating project for the first time or pick up a new hobby that you can’t instantly master, challenging yourself to embrace imperfections and accept defeat will help you acknowledge and overcome your weaknesses, rather than ignoring them altogether. Additionally, identifying the difference between true failure and minor mistakes will help you create more realistic standards for yourself. 

Ask for Help: 

As perfectionists tend to be resistant to sharing their work before they know it is flawless, showing their boss or peers a rough draft is often anxiety-inducing. Thus, it is easy to get sucked into a cycle of rumination, obsessing over what we think needs to be fixed and negating anything that might already be strong.

Thus, by reaching out to someone you trust to provide honest feedback earlier in the creative process, you can disrupt the endless cycle of edits and pinpoint what truly needs improvement. It also shows to your coworkers that you are willing to collaborate, value their judgment, and can take constructive criticism. You might even be surprised to learn you were already on the right track!

Take Time to Process your Successes: 

When you are anxious about the next deadline or get lost in a colleague’s critique, it is easy to forget to take stock of your victories. Instead of brushing off praise with “I could have done better” or “it wasn’t that great,” take a moment to recognize your growth and talent as a young professional! Make it a daily practice to keep a positivity journal, logging three good things that happened to you each day, even if they are as small as a moment of laughter during a meeting. It is easier said than done to tune out negativity. However, stopping to appreciate the process and your progress is a vital part of keeping a balanced perspective.


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