The Career Within You

Finding the perfect job for your personality

Annette Bening’s Role as a Perfectionist

The benefits of high standards and hard work.

Annette Bening
Drawing by Elizabeth Wagele
Elizabeth Wagele
Nobody would ever mistake me for a Perfectionist and I doubt Elizabeth Taylor ever played one. However, the role of Nic played by Annette Bening in the movie "The Kids Are All Right" is a One-Perfectionist in the Enneagram. She worked hard to become a doctor and now she's balancing her work with the stresses of her family life. You would want to have a Perfectionist surgeon, dentist, or pilot. Johann Sebastian Bach was probably a Perfectionist type too. You can see Nic is losing control of things and we see her becoming unwound because she needs predictability. That's difficult to come by living with her free spirit partner Jules, played by Julianne Moore, and two teenage kids.

I read about perfectionists in the NY Times' "Shortcuts:" It's Just Fine to Make Mistakes By ALINA TUGEND March 11, 2011. I think the new book, "Better by Mistake: The Unexpected Benefits of Being Wrong" (Riverhead) could just as well be about the Enneagram "Perfectionist" type. The author interviewed Dr. Jeff Szymanski, executive director of the Obsessive Compulsive Foundation in Boston. His opinion that there are adaptive and maladaptive perfectionists parallels the Enneagram theory of healthy and less healthy types put forth by Don Riso, though Riso proclaims more than two levels of health.

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Before I had heard of the Enneagram I encountered both types while teaching piano lessons. "Adaptive" perfectionists came to their lessons prepared and practiced at least as much as I asked them to. They had high standards for themselves but didn't let a rare mistake bother them unduly. Some of them could understand the concept of sacrificing getting every note perfect in favor of playing musically and expressively. "Maladaptive" perfectionists were unrealistic about their perfectionism; they might break down and cry over a tiny mistake.

Enneagram theory says we have all nine types within us to some degree. I'm an Observer first, followed by Romantic, Questioner, Adventurer, Peace Seeker, Perfectionist, Helper, Asserter, and Achiever (in that order. On a different day I might change the order of these a bit.) The Perfectionist takes over when I'm driving if I come to a detour in the road and forget about it on the way back. A critical voice will turn on in my ear and curse me for not remembering that I was going to go the RIGHT WAY to avoid the detour that I KNEW would be there.

I'm playing some piano music that is difficult for me-violin/piano sonatas-and I hate making mistakes when I'm playing with someone else, but when I'm alone I enjoy practicing over and over to try to get it right. And I like editing. I'm a "maximizer," which is a Perfectionist thing. It's fun to take something that's already good and try to make it better.

I don't vacuum every day like some Perfectionists do. I'm not very neat. When I see myself being moralistic I try to see how objective I can be instead. I value the feelings expressed in art. I love playing Bach. In order to play Bach, it's good to be perfect. I try. Bach is worth it.

Read more about Enneagram Perfectionists:
The Enneagram Made Easy

 

Elizabeth Wagele is the co-author with Ingrid Stabb of The Career Within You: How to Find the Perfect Job for Your Personality.

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