A Coaching Power Tool By Elena Scolaro, Job Transition – Business Coach, ITALY
Why This Power Tool: Performance vs. Perfection(ism)
Have no fear of perfection, you will never reach it. Salvador Dalì
Along this beautiful coaching journey, the tendency to perfection had shown up several times. Also, in the working environment, I’ve seen many colleagues, bosses, and friends struggling with perfectionism.
There is a sort of general acceptance about being a perfectionist like it’s, in the end, a good trait, nothing to be worried about. But it’s not; it’s something that drags your energy down if you are not able to change the way to see things.
To this means, I have decided to deep dive into it and give myself and my clients a new perspective to see their achievements as more empowering and satisfying.
What Is the Difference Between Performance vs. Perfection(ism)
I started my search from the meaning in the Italian dictionary of the Treccani encyclopedia. It turns out to be a surprise because the word perfection comes from the Latin perfectio – perficere “perform”.So in origin, the meaning was closer to performance.
Culturally we tend to see a “certain degree of perfectionism” as an outstanding quality, usually very much appreciated in organizations. During job interviews, I couldn’t count how many candidates presented themselves as “perfectionist”. It is the only negative quality people apply to themselves easily, and here is where perfectionism gets complicated and controversial. It isn’t easy to say when a person is committed and motivated and when he is a perfectionist.
Some researchers say there is an adaptive or ‘healthy’ perfectionism (characterized by having high standards, motivation, and discipline) versus a maladaptive or ‘unhealthy’ version (when your best never seems good enough and not meeting goals frustrates you). This last situation led to “pathological perfectionism.”
The drawback of pathological perfectionism isn’t just that it holds you back from being your most successful, productive self. Perfectionistic tendencies have been linked to any clinical disorder starting from depression and anxiety (even in children) and culminating in the most dangerous ones, suicide.
Without intrinsic feelings of worth, perfectionists tend to measure their value against external measures: academic record, athletic prowess, popularity, and professional achievement. When they fall short of expectations, they feel shame and humiliation.
Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be our best. Perfectionism is not about healthy achievement and growth; it’s a shield. Brene Brown
As Brene Brown said, perfectionism is a shield that protects the fear of mistakes, of not being enough. It is a self-defeating way to move through the world but avoiding mistakes at any cost, not being able to understand when “enough is enough” means to commit yourself to a never-ending sense of unfulfillment.
As a Coach, my area of attention will be clients who feel they are stuck, tend to procrastinate, have low self-esteem, fear failure, have imposter syndrome, and tend to give up.
I tend to procrastinate, especially when something is significant to me. I don’t feel that my work is enough so I will try and try, but every time I see the quality of it declining. What is happening under my eyes is that I’m not able to judge what I’m doing because the decided outcome is too fine, too perfect to be reached in time. All these efforts led me to work till the last minute to refine the work and fear that it would be nonsense or full of mistakes. The result is that I spend so much energy that I’m exhausted but not satisfied most of the time.
From Perfection to Performance
The yearning for something that is intrinsically impossible can result only in feelings of frustration and inadequacy. Yet though perfectionism can corrode our sense of self-worth, few of us would want to give up the ambition to develop and grow.
In today’s world, where the rate of change is far more significant and faster than ever, it is becoming increasingly difficult to achieve perfection. As a result, a perfectionist would find it very difficult to move forward. Instability, a constant sense of urgency, and goals change very fast. These are some of the new key features of the post-pandemic environment that can lead the perfectionist to miss the joy of learning as the perfectionist is constantly putting themselves under pressure to achieve perfection in each milestone before they are willing to move forward.
How Can We Help Clients Change Their Perspectives and Move Forward?
Suppose a client adopts a perfectionist mindset that does not serve them. In that case, a coach can support and help the client by achieving awareness about this current perspective, serving the client’s goals, and taking steps toward achieving a more empowering perspective
A good lever to address is the ambition to develop and grow. Even if you tend to perfectionism, you still have aspirations that you want to fulfill like everyone else.
As initially said perfection cannot serve the client well. It is an unempowering perspective with all the implications mentioned above.
When the client is aware of the limit of the current situation can embrace the idea that perfection is a paradox; simply, it doesn’t exist. As the religions said, perfection is out of this world, so a possible shift can be acceptance of this paradox and of their own self and focusing on a more sustainable concept like performance.
The idea of performance can give the client the sense of something good, significant, or even outstanding but something tangible that can be accomplished with progress.
Perfection is static, performance is dynamic, and evolution is progress.
Moving from perfection to performance makes me think about moving from a fixed mindset to a growth one.
A fixed mindset makes employees feel unfulfilled, afraid of making mistakes, and procrastinating in making decisions. People with fixed mindsets are less focused on learning and blame themselves for failure. To be viewed favorably and to avoid being blamed, these individuals strive to achieve perfection, seek validation from others, and are reluctant to move forward if perfection is not achieved at any point in their milestones toward their goals.
Flip Perfection Into Performance
Focus the awareness of the client on the current perfectionistic perspective as it is, dealing with it.
- Evoke awareness about how perfectionism is serving the client
- What are the feelings connected?
Support the client by framing the concept of perfection as a paradox – a fixed mindset, a static perspective
Evoke self-acceptance and compassion as a neutral perspective as a starting point for reframing perspective
Create a vision of what is possible
Support the client to embark on a sustainable performance letting go of the need to prove to oneself and others that outcomes and/or solutions must be perfect.
Making the shift to embracing performance as the means to progress and grow in all areas of life – a growth mindset
Supporting new pathways of the client, focusing the attention on consistency and small wins to sustain the change avowing stepbacks.
- Have no fear of perfection, you will never reach it.
- Treccani dictionary word perfection
- Brene Brown - Perfectionism is not the same thing as...
- The perfectionism trap | The Economist.
- Progress vs. Perfection - International Coach Academy.
- R. (2018). The dangerous downside of perfectionism. BBC Future.
- Ellwood B.,(2022): Study suggests that striving for excellence – but not perfection – boosts creative performance
- Dweck, C. S. (2012). Mindset: How You Can Fulfill Your Potential. Constable & Robinson Limited
- Berger, E. M. The relation between expressed acceptance of self and expressed acceptance of others. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology