Nine Little-Known Signs of Perfectionism

  • “Perfectionist” is worn by some as a mark of pride, but the trait often comes with a significant cost.
  • Well-known perfectionists tend to display the trait externally through an obsession with details or a relentless, uncompromising nature. But it’s also possible for perfectionism to display itself more covertly.
  • Covert perfectionists may find themselves unable to relax, concentrate, delegate, or even get anything done because they’re so preoccupied with a fear of failure.

Are you a perfectionist? Most perfectionists don’t identify as perfectionists. But these nine signs might make you come out of the (perfectly organized) perfectionist closet.

“It’s perfect!” While calling something “perfect” is the highest of compliments—a perfectly done steak, the perfect prom dress, a perfect 10 in the ice dancing finals—calling someone a perfectionist is anything but.

Why? It implies a stressed-out control freak who can’t relax. Perfectionists have a reputation for being relentless. Uncompromising. Never satisfied. And often, it turns out, very successful. Rolling Stone calls Bruno Mars a “pop perfectionist.” Serena Williams proudly labels herself as a perfectionist. Steve Jobs was a notorious perfectionist.

All of these people—and likely some of the perfectionists you know (maybe even you)—are at the top of their professions, have made themselves rich and famous, and delivered great work along the way. But not without paying a price.

It’s the cost of perfectionism— anger , stress, abrasiveness, being seen as picky, rigid, or over-controlling—that makes most people shun the perfectionist label.

As a result, perfectionists seldom claim to be perfectionists. And further, because the label is a misnomer, most perfectionists don’t even realize they’re perfectionists.

How is it a misnomer? Contrary to the name, most perfectionists aren’t driven by the pursuit of perfection, they’re driven by the avoidance of failure. Being a perfectionist isn’t about being perfect, it’s about never being good enough.

Should you call yourself a perfectionist? Maybe. Some characteristics of perfectionism lead to excellence and success, like doing things well, thoroughly, or efficiently. Indeed, sweating the small stuff is an advantage when it comes to landing that promotion, creating a magazine-worthy holiday dinner, or organizing the garage with the intricacy of a game of Tetris.

So when does being a perfectionist become a hindrance? It can get in your way when you spend so much time polishing a project that it never actually gets done, get sucked so far into the details that you miss the point (or the deadline), or insist that the two sides to every argument are your way and the wrong way.

But there are also lesser-known signs of perfectionism. For starters, here are nine of them. Are you a *perfect* match? (Sorry, couldn’t resist).

1. You always look great.

Your outfit always looks pulled together; no chipped nail polish or two-day stubble for you. Plus, it’s not painful for others to look at you (every mother of a tween boy knows what I mean—“No, you cannot wear athletic shorts and Adidas slides to Uncle Al’s funeral!”)

Now, you might be the type of perfectionist whose focus isn’t about appearance—you might save your perfectionism for other domains. Steve Jobs reportedly wore a black turtleneck and Levi’s every day so he didn’t have to waste neurons on deciding what to wear.

curaJOY Contributor
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