Striving for perfection - rather than just plain excellence - can make you and everyone around you nuts. How can you advance in your career if you regularly spend hours on tasks - like writing a thank you note after an informational interview - that others seem to crank out in an instant?
"Whereas extraverts tend to broaden the sphere of their work, to present their products early (and often) to the world, to make themselves known to a wide circle, and to multiply relationships and activities, the introvert takes the opposite approach," according to Gifts Differing by Isabel Briggs Myers. She continues: "Going more deeply into their work, introverts are reluctant to call it finished and publish it."
Different facets of perfectionism
As an introvert and a perfectionist myself (confirmed by taking Psychology Today's Perfectionism Test!), I immerse myself deeply in my work and find the process of striving for outstanding results immensely rewarding. "Perfectionists are capable of ecstatic heights, of being totally in Csikszentmihalyi's (1990) flow, unfettered by time constraints or the judgments of others, when the activity itself becomes the reward rather than a means to an end," according to a paper by psychologist Linda Kreger Silverman, Ph.D.
She also points out that perfectionism is "chiefly an affliction of the gifted" and that it "indiscriminately mingles idealism, introversion, preoccupation with one's flaws, fear of not being able to live up to others' expectations, and making unfair demands of others." Introverts, incidentally, are half the population at large and, according to Silverman, well over half the gifted population.
"Don't worry, be crappy"
I have to remind myself to temper the tug of my own perfectionism with advice from entrepreneurial evangelist Guy Kawasaki: "Don't worry, be crappy.... When your product is 'good enough' (but not 'perfect'), ship it, and see what happens." His wisdom makes sense whether you're bringing a product to market, launching your Web site, preparing for a presentation at work, or revising your résumé. It also dovetails with the description of the productivity of extroverts* from Myers, who developed the popular Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® personality assessment with her mother, Katharine Briggs, in the 1940s.
Kawasaki's advice offers ballast for introverts. It reminds us to strike a balance between our natural inclination to dive deeply and passionately into our projects and the task of sharing the results so that others will benefit. Only then can we get recognized for our contributions.
Balancing perfectionism with productivity
If you're an introvert who needs to balance her perfectionism with her productivity and career advancement, see what you can glean from the following sample scenarios. (If you're an extrovert, you may benefit from your more action oriented nature.)
Scenario #1: Meeting with someone you perceive as more powerful than yourself.
Your natural tug: Delay the meeting until you have a Nobel Prize, an Oscar, a Pulitzer, or you've inspired world peace.
What's best for your career: Get grounded, get prepared, get clear about your objectives, and get going to the meeting.
Scenario #2: Giving a presentation to people who can influence your career.
Your natural tug: Stay home rather than risk flubbing. Find someone else to speak.
What's best for your career: Give the presentation. But first plan, prepare, and practice until you've got it down cold. Be fully present with your audience. Share your knowledge, solve their problems, and find a way to continue the dialog.
Scenario #3: Sending out your résumé to a prospective employer.
Your natural tug: You belabor the task of fine-tuning your already strong résumé. The process might take days or weeks and will cause you agita.
What's best for your career: Of course, adjust your résumé to target the opportunity. Highlight your accomplishments prominently and succinctly. Just start typing and imagine sending your internal critic out for coffee (or on a trip on the Space Shuttle!). He can come back and make tweaks later.
Tips for perfectionists
Executive and life coach Eleanor Chin, MAPP offers the following tips for perfectionists, which she expounds on in her article "Perfectionism and Productivity: Visions of Success or Fear of Failure?" in the Positive Psychology News Daily:
1. Stress excellence rather than perfection.
2. Cultivate a "learning" rather than a "performance" mindset.
3. Focus on "benefit-finding" rather than "fault finding."
4. Put it in perspective.
5. Monitor your self-talk when you or others make mistakes.
6. Focus on the journey.
Putting your "very, very best foot forward"
Ah, yes, the journey. While practice makes perfect, remember that perfect can make you nuts. So let's conclude with some fun lyrics from a song titled "Perfectionist" by
Landon Pigg that I hope will make you smile:
"Paranoid perfectionistic people
They can only put their very, very best foot forward
And as a result they're rather easy to detect
They'll be the only ones hopping down the streets of New York."
The goofy paranoia reference notwithstanding, you might add this song to your cell phone ringtones as a fun daily reminder to keep taking steps in the right direction - and with less agita!
*Also spelled "extraverts" by Carl Jung and the communities of the MBTI® and other personality assessments such as the Five Factor Model.
Isabel Briggs Myers with Peter B. Myers, Gifts Differing: Understanding Personality Type, Davies-Black Publishing, a division of CPP, Inc., 1980, 1995, pp. 54-55.
Nancy Ancowitz, Self-Promotion for Introverts: The Quiet Guide to Getting Ahead, McGraw-Hill, October 2009, p. 8.
Isabel Briggs Myers, Mary H. McCaulley, Naomi L. Quenk, and Allen L. Hammer, MBTI® Manual: A Guide to the Development and Use of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®, 3rd ed., Consulting Psychologists Press, Palo Alto, Calif., 1998, p. 298.
Linda Kreger Silverman, Ph.D., "Perfectionism: The Crucible of Giftedness," Gifted Education International, Vol 23, p. 101; p. 1, 5-6, 10; originally published in Advanced Development, 1999. Also in B. Hoylst (ed.), Mental health in a changing world. Warsaw: The Polish Society for Mental Health, 1990.
Guy Kawasaki, "The Art of Innovation," How to Change the World: A practical blog for impractical people.
Eleanor Chin, "Perfectionism and Productivity: Visions of Success or Fear of Failure?," Positive Psychology News Daily, September 15, 2009.
Landon Pigg, "Perfectionist," LP, July, 25, 2006.