When you hear about someone being a perfectionist, your mind probably leans toward the negative. Perhaps you assume they’ll be picky, persnickety, and problematic.
As a self-confessed perfectionist from a (very) early age, I’d like to explore this personality trait to help fellow perfectionists and those around them identify it, embrace it and put it to a positive use.
Realization You’re a Perfectionist
I think I realized I was a perfectionist from some of my very first memories. If I was cognizant as a newborn, I probably would have analyzed the birth and given the Obstetrician a few tips to try next time!
But seriously, I recall a project due in 2nd grade. It was the kind of paper with wide lines for kids, and the teacher pointed out a few edits. I rewrote the entire paper because I didn’t like erasing and rewriting on the same page. It looked messy!
She finally realized the 3rd time I came up to her that I was rewriting the whole page, and went on to tell me (giving me permission I apparently needed) that erasing corrected areas was good enough. Well, I never forgot the term “good enough” and rewrote it anyway to make it “perfect” in my 2nd grade opinion.
Symptoms of Perfectionism in Advisor Clients
When my financial advisor clients tend towards perfectionism, these are the qualities I typically see. Many of these ring a bell?
• A slow work pace
• Implementation struggles
• Procrastination, and every reason why not to do something
• Paralysis by analysis
• Engaging in the blame game
• All or nothing thinking
• Unrealistic standards
• Avoid activity when you know you won’t be at your best
• Give up on something rather than not do it perfectly
• Highly critical on mistakes, obsess about previous mistakes
• People pleaser, finding yourself stressed/unhappy if someone is not pleased with your work
• Depressed by unmet goals, taking it very hard when you don’t achieve perfection
• Relief when someone else fails
• Asking for help feels like a sign of weakness
• Don’t trust others to do tasks correctly and lack ability to delegate
• Need to be in control
• Chronic unhappiness and dissatisfaction
• Fear, anxiety, procrastination, depression
Having some of these traits doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a perfectionist. But if you identify with many of these, it’s likely you are indeed a perfectionist.
The Impact of Perfectionism on the Fundamental 4™
My Fundamental 4™ process addresses the following key areas of your practice, and here’s how perfectionism can negatively impact those elements of your firm:
1. Strategic Planning: As the leader of a team and the business owner, you are the driver of all things. If you are often unclear about what you want because it is not laid out perfectly, the collateral damage is your team. They struggle to understand where you’re taking the firm, how they’re supposed to help and how they fit into the big picture.
2. Business Development: If you have no plan or understanding of the ideal client for the firm, you’re unlikely to form a marketing plan and budget and probably won’t have a desire to network due to fear of failure.
3. Operational Effectiveness: A perfectionist figures if the processes are not perfect, why build them? This is far too often the mindset of an owner and why things stay in their head vs. getting them down on paper where they can be implemented.
4. Human Element: Too often, failing to hire in a timely manner is caused by the anxiety of not doing it right. This leaves gaps in your team and a reduction in service and performance.
Moving Past Perfectionism Towards the Positive
How can you take your perfectionist personality and put it to work to better your practice?
First, recognize your perfectionism and understand that it’s ok. Embracing a personality trait is the first step to putting it to good use.
In many ways, perfectionism brings a fear of failing, keeping you alert and watching each moment to make sure it’s the best it can be. The small attention to detail is a wonderful skill to consistently roll out new initiatives and high quality client deliverables and processes.
Get comfortable with getting out of your comfort zone and disrupting the status quo. This is a key mindset critical for me to move on to new ideas and concepts, and it’s always refreshing!
Consider what the absolute worst case scenario for every situation. I always ask clients this question to help them resolve the negative self-talk which is all to often. Once you address the worst case scenarios, they actually aren’t as bad as they seemed! It’s more the fear of the unknown outcome that haunts the perfectionist.
If you name the worst case scenario and call it out, you’re more likely to say “Well, if that’s the worst, it’s not that bad!” This builds confidence and helps you move forward.
You may find it helpful to engage in self-help work, engage an advisor coach like myself, or pursue solid cognitive behavioral therapy to change your thinking patterns and better focus on the positive aspect of your work/life/relationships.
Finally, and most importantly, try to shift from perfection to authenticity. Be vulnerable. Show others who you truly are. That’s where the most progress is made and where perfectionism can become an asset instead of a liability.
Need help putting your perfectionism into a more positive place? We’re always here to help.