Perfectionism doesn’t have to be such a bad thing

I am a perfectionist, no doubt about that. To be more specific (and technical about it), I consider myself an adaptive perfectionist (i.e. the ‘good’ or ‘healthy’ type of perfectionism, as some scholars put it). Anyone who knows me well can and will tell you that I aim for excellence (perfection, really) in everything. But before you bombard me with numerous research study results and explanations on why perfectionism is doing more bad than good to a person, let me share with you how I have put this trait (yes, I refuse to call it a ‘condition’ or ‘disorder’) to good use in the different roles I play in my life. You see, I’m a perfectionist, but I’m far from being depressed or unhappy with my life. Quite the contrary, in fact. I am extremely grateful for the kind of life I have now, as well as for the opportunities I have been given to excel and have fun at the same time. I may be stressed – as everyone is – but I know that my efforts are well-placed and will yield results (as they always do) that will make me tell myself, “It was all worth it”.

My perfectionism allows me to constantly improve myself; it does NOT force me to compete with or envy other people. As a student, I enjoyed the idea of going to school to learn new things (and be with my friends, as a bonus). True, there were subjects that I enjoyed less, but I was generally happy and willing to add bits and pieces of knowledge to my stock. The writer in me also liked reading books, essays, magazines and other materials because I knew that I will be able to pick up a number of new words which I can use to expand my vocabulary, and learn from the writing style of various authors.

As a corporate professional, I wanted to understand all aspects of the business to get a well-rounded view and appreciation of the company I’m working for. I also sought greater responsibilities for myself, because I believe that only then will I be able to truly challenge myself to think deeper, work harder, and perform at a much higher level. In short, I don’t want to settle and get too comfortable with a role that may be easy but no longer gives me new learnings.

I can still remember the time when, as a young employee (on my third or fourth year, if I’m not mistaken) I went to our group director (equivalent to vice president in other companies) and asked to be given a high-profile project – something that I know nothing about, and something that nobody has handled before. He was surprised and pleased at the same time, I guess. He said not many people would want more of the hard stuff, and asked me the reason behind my request. So I explained that I was no longer satisfied with a support role and that I wanted to see and report my own project results whenever we had a management meeting. Don’t get me wrong, though. It wasn’t about me being arrogant and thinking that I’m too good to be a support to a manager; it was about me wanting to take on more – meaning, something on top of what I was already doing – with the end goal of improving myself.

My drive for excellence (or perfection, if possible) is anchored on my desire to be a better me, and NOT to be better than someone. The comparison is always to myself, and NOT anybody else. I may view them as a benchmark or inspiration even, but not as competitors or enemies. When I set my personal goals, I only think about myself and what I can and want to achieve. Overtaking someone has never been factored in my planning. I believe that it’s not about being number one in everything. Sure, if you can reach the top, then good for you, but it shouldn’t be the end-all. I just want to be the best version of myself – meaning, maximizing my potential and taking advantage of every chance for me to develop my craft and hone my skills.

Also, my perfectionism has fast-tracked my career; it did NOT, in any way, impede my growth as a corporate professional. I’m fortunate that the company I’ve been working for since pre-university graduation understands and appreciates me for who I am. My mentors and bosses, particularly during my junior years, thankfully saw me as an asset to the company and provided me the needed support to help me realize my excellence goals. They did not frown upon my perfectionism and everything that came with it – keen attention to details, organized and systematic way of doing things, and focus on efficient and excellent execution of tasks. It was actually through this that I gained their trust and confidence, eventually earning for myself promotions, recognitions, and plenty of opportunities to showcase what I have in my tank – all at a young age. Of course, I wasn’t the perfect employee (and later on, leader) and I didn’t know everything I had to back then, so my journey up the career ladder became a learning process for me as well. I think the important thing is that while you aim for perfection in everything you do, you acknowledge your weaknesses and be willing to sweat it out and turn those into opportunities to improve yourself.

Contrary to some scholarly articles, my perfectionism has resulted in a more efficient me; it did NOT cause any delay in the execution of my plans and realization of my dreams. For me, it is not enough that you produce excellent results; you have to complete the process in the least possible time as well. Efficiency, in my belief, is a function of both the output and the time spent to produce the output, that’s why I always challenge myself to work fast AND ensure excellent (or perfect, if possible) results. Procrastination is a no-no for me so I waste no time in getting things done.

At work, I usually start my day by listing down all my to-do items in order of priority. I don’t stop there, though; I also indicate how much time I intend to spend on a specific task. That way, my brain is wired accordingly and my pace follows.

On a more personal level, I jotted down specific goals that I hoped to achieve by the age of 30 – finish childbearing, have our own home, be part of the company’s senior management team. And because of my views on efficiency (and perfectionism, too), I endeavored to outperform my targets by achieving my goals earlier. I had my third and last child months before I turned 30, purchased and moved to our own home at 29, and was formally asked to be a department head at the age of 27. But don’t think it was a walk in the park for me. It was nothing close to easy, to be honest, but like I said, all efforts put into realizing my personal goals were surely worth it.

If there’s one thing that I’m really happy about, it is that my perfectionism enabled me to be surrounded by good people; it did NOT push away the people who I wanted to be with. I’m perfectly aware that not everyone will be pleased to live, hang out, or work with a perfectionist. Why? It’s because different people have different standards and principles in life. Some like to pursue excellence and perfection, while others are happy to be average or good (and nobody should dictate which view is better). However, I’m extremely blessed to have an amazing husband who supports my dreams, a loving family and a crazy bunch of friends who get my perfectionist views, and a few trusted workmates who understand why I push for excellence in everything we do. 🙂

So you see, perfectionism isn’t and shouldn’t be taken as a bad thing. Make it work for you. Allow it to transform you into a better person, and in the process, make everyone around you improve as well. Most importantly, have a blast using and enjoying it! 🙂

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