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Are You a Perfectionist?

…and will this quiz reveal your true perfectionist status?

I have no idea whether perfectionism has anything to do with being single in general, but I sure thought it had a lot to do with me. I love doing things as well as I possibly can. I have been teaching for more than three decades, and not once have I ever walked into a classroom without being totally prepared. I don't like making mistakes. I got great grades in school and hated it when I got anything less than an A. I must be a perfectionist, right?

I recently read Elizabeth Lombardo's book, Better Than Perfect, in which she offers a 30-item quiz for assessing your perfectionist tendencies. (You can also find the quiz at her website.) For each of the items, greater agreement indicates more perfectionism. Some of the items really did describe me. For example:

  • "I frequently make lists."
  • "I have pretty demanding standards for myself and those around me."
  • "I can be extremely detail-oriented."
  • "I like being prepared for whatever may happen."

But there are also all sorts of items that really do not describe me at all. For example:

  • "I am sometimes so afraid of failing that I don't even start."
  • "I have trouble making decisions."
  • "I often miss out on enjoyable and exciting events because I'm working so hard."
  • "I have trouble finishing projects because there's always something more I can do to make it better."

So I guess I'm not the perfect perfectionist after all.

Or am I?

Lombardo's quiz is like so many others you can find online and in popular magazines—it is her invention, and it is of unknown scientific merit. To pass scientific muster, a personality scale (or any other measuring device) must be validated. That's an exacting process. It involves addressing issues such as:

  1. Are all of these items really relevant to perfectionism?
  2. Are they all measuring the same thing, or are there actually different aspects of perfectionism?
  3. Do people answer the questions the same way over time? (So, if you score as a perfectionist today will you also score as one next week?)
  4. Do people who score as perfectionist think and feel and act in the way that perfectionists should think and feel and act? That is, does the scale measure what it is supposed to measure?
  5. Do people who score as perfectionist not think and feel and act in the way that perfectionists should not think and feel and act? That is, does the scale not measure what it is not supposed to measure?
  6. Is the scale really measuring something new or is it just a different label for something we already know about, such as the need for achievement?

Lombardo hasn't answered any of those questions about her quiz. So maybe she has a measure of perfectionism, but we just don't know yet. The items represent her best guesses as to what perfectionism is all about, but in science, we need to go beyond that.

[Note: Image is from Google images, available for reuse.]

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