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Seven signs you are a perfectionist

No matter how successful you are, life is robbed of its joy and inner peace is snuffed out by perfectionism. I know, because I used to be obsessed with being perfect – and some days I still slip up and slip into this old habit. Overcoming perfectionism is like overcoming alcoholism, I acknowledge that I will forever be in recovery. Thankfully, it does get easier and brings such a sense of peace and happiness.

One of the things I found most challenging as I started this journey to recovery was catching and becoming aware of when I was genuinely striving for excellence and when perfectionism was kicking in. Being a high achiever and continually striving for excellence is a good thing and something I did not want to sacrifice. In fact, I needed to prove to myself that I could still be a high achiever without the perfectionism. Perfectionists and high achievers do have many similar traits so that is why it can be tricky to spot the difference.

Here are some key differences and signs to look out for that you are falling prey to perfectionism:

  1. Unrealistic standards. Perfectionists often set goals that are out of reach or near impossible to reach. Their standards for themselves and others are often out of reach. For example, I am currently working on being more toned for summer, but I do not expect myself to get back to the way I looked when I was 20. At 44, if I achieved that it would be a bonus but highly unlikely 😊. Perfectionists drive themselves crazy trying to reach the unattainable and are prone to feeling disheartened and giving up along the way. This is why high achievers are more likely to be successful because they are more realistic and know how to keep themselves motivated. They also ensure that they do NOT have an…
  2. Almost obsessive focus on end results. Perfectionists are fixated on the perfect outcome and tend to obsess over the end result. They don’t focus on the in between steps that they need to take and reward themselves for achievement as they go. Looking at the top of the staircase – and how far away or daunting it often feels – without seeing the steps to get there, can be very overwhelming and lead to…
  3. Poor time management and procrastination. Perfectionists put so much pressure on themselves that they often stall in getting going because the task seems insurmountable – and it often is (see point 1). Because they don’t break things down into manageable goals and spend too much time focusing on the perfect end results, they can become paralysed. The other extreme is to overprepare and spend excessive amounts of time on tasks. This is fuelled by anxiety and fear and seldom ends well. Deadlines get missed or tasks take so long that they are not able to get through their workload and this feeds into and can perpetuate…
  4. Low self-esteem because of constant internal criticism. Perfectionists  feel bad about themselves and lack a sense of pride in their achievements. This is driven by all-or-nothing thinking. If they achieved 80%, they will fixate on what happened to the other 20% to the extent that the joy of the excellent achievement is lost. Their critical nature (often resulting in bouts of anger, depression and anxiety) can push others away. This exacerbates the low self-esteem resulting in a vicious cycle of self-sabotage, which results in them being frequently…
  5. Down in the dumps. Perfectionists become very discouraged and even depressed by not achieving the goals and standards that they have set or that they imagine others have set for them. The irony is that those looking in from the outside are often astounded by the results that they achieve but they are not internally satisfied. The self-sabotage of setting an impossible standard and then not achieving it wreaks havoc with self-esteem and relationships with others. This is driven by a deep…
  6. Fear of failure. A perfectionist’s biggest fear is failing. And since anything less than perfect is seen as failure, perfectionists sometimes put off things until the last minute (as mentioned in point 3). The pressure they then find themselves under makes it virtually impossible to succeed. High achievers are pulled towards their goals while perfectionist and pushed by fear of failing and not being good enough. This means that they are more likely to…
  7. Take things personally and become defensiveness. Because being anything less than perfect is so painful and scary to perfectionists, they tend to take constructive criticism defensively. A perfectionist identity is so wrapped up in being perfect that it can be very hard to let the feedback of other in. High achievers thrive on criticism and see it as valuable information to help them improve and grow. 

Look out for these signs and next week we will take Key Step to purge perfectionism and…

‘be the difference that makes the difference.’ 



PS: Did you notice that I didn’t send you an article last week? On the one hand, I hope you missed it 😊 But I realise that you likely didn’t even notice it. It’s one of only a handful of times that I haven’t sent out weekly support to my readers in the past 14 years! I have been so busy, I recently had a small surgery and my second vaccine. I needed the extra rest and not to spend the approximately 3-hours this takes to put together for you each week. I am tired and that is okay! Years ago, I would have seen this as a failure. Now I am glad to report that I am human, very human 😊.


NOTE: The information in my blog may be freely shared and re-used in any online or offline publication, provided it is accompanied by the following credit line: This was written by Dr Sharon King Gabrielides, and originally appeared in her free weekly  ‘Key Steps Food for Thought Blog’ available on the Key Steps website.

Dr Sharon King Gabrielides

About Dr Sharon King Gabrielides

Sharon is a dynamic facilitator, speaker and executive coach with over 20 years’ experience in leadership and organisational development and transformation. She is a registered Education, Training and Development Practitioner (ETDP), holds an Honours degree in Psychology and practices as an NLP master practitioner. She is also one of only three women in South Africa to hold the title of Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) – it’s the Oscar of the speaking business.

Sharon’s PhD thesis contributed a framework for holistic and sustainable leadership development that has been published by Rutgers University in the USA. She is faculty of Henley Business School and highly sought-after by leading corporates because she works hand-in-hand with them to create sustainable results and long-term success. Sharon has become known for her practical approach, useful tools and genuinely caring manner. She is really looking forward to working with you and taking Key Steps to ‘be the difference that makes the difference.’



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