Striving for Perfection

If you personally strive for perfection in all that you do, please consider the following:

“Striving for perfection is the greatest stopper there is.… It’s your excuse to yourself for not doing anything. Instead, strive for excellence, doing your best.” – Sir Laurence Olivier

It is important that you distinguish for yourself whether you want to strive for excellence or for perfection.  There are differences between the two.   For example, you likely know what doing your best feels like, while your perception of perfection often involves what you think others want from you.  This can be intangible and even impossible to achieve.

Characteristics of Perfectionists

Just as the quote states, those who strive for perfection are often so concerned about doing something perfectly that they end up doing nothing at all.  It may be an extreme example, but perfectionism also manifests itself in less apparent ways:

  • Avoiding group projects because no one can meet your expectations
  • Perceiving advice as negative and critical
  • Being inflexible and stubborn
  • Procrastinating
  • Being overly critical of others
  • Obsessing about minor details of a project at the expense of efficiency

Will you be employable?

If your tendency towards perfection leads you to behave in some of the above ways, you may need to realign your priorities in order to be successful.  As opposed to perfectionism, doing your best and striving for excellence will make you an ideal candidate for most jobs.  Your hard work and attention to detail will likely get you noticed by current and future employers.

On the flip side, trying to be perfect will make it hard for you to find a job and become successful in it.  Here is a list of a few of the most desired characteristics that employers seek in job candidates:

  • Communication skills
  • Strong work ethic
  • Teamwork skills (works well with others)
  • Initiative
  • Flexibility/adaptability
  • Interpersonal skills (relates well to others)

If you compare this list to the above list of perfectionist tendencies, you will certainly see that the two are incompatible.  The characteristics of some perfectionists — being inflexible, anti-teamwork, and unreceptive to advice — make it hard to get along with others. Effective teamwork and communication skills are vitally important no matter what your career goals are.

Focus on personal excellence

Instead of being overly concerned about perfection, consider how you can become an excellent job candidate. There are several articles in this blog that speak about how to optimize your desirability as a job seeker.

To ensure your ability to be successful, be sure to work at:

“The one important thing I have learned over the years is the difference between taking one’s work seriously and taking one’s self seriously. The first is imperative, the second is disastrous.” – Margot Fonteyn

If you find that you are being overly critical of yourself or others, remember that perfection is ultimately unobtainable.  All we can have control over is how we react to the world.   Try to learn how to laugh at yourself and the ridiculousness of some of life’s challenges.  If you can do that, you will likely be much happier and more successful.


Lori Bielek is the Marketing and Technology Coordinator at University of Delaware’s (UD) Career Services Center where she advises students in the arts and sciences through all steps of their career development.  You can connect with Lori through LinkedIn or her UD Career Services Twitter account (@UDcareers).

Related posts:

  1. When Stressed: Don’t Procrastinate, Take a Break
  2. How to Be Assertive
  3. Learning from Success and Failure

9 Responses to “Striving for Perfection”

  1. avatar Alexis says:

    I know this from experience by witnessing it and doing it myself. But I’m also picky about things going my way, but never getting it making me move from my team. It can be hard being a perfectionist, because you know you want to turn in your work but it not right. I don’t go to the extremes of perfectionism, but I witness it in my friend unfortunately.

  2. avatar Chrissie says:

    Wow! This is a really great article. I’m a perfectionist for sure, which has made school more difficult for me. I have a hard time meeting deadlines because I obsess over tiny details that wouldn’t hurt my grade nearly as much as if I turned the assignment in late. I’m a senior in high school now, but I’ve been needing to hear this stuff for a long time. My freshman year of college is approaching soon so I’ll need to start working towards EXCELLENCE rather than perfection if I’m going to make through the next four years and eventually get a job.

  3. Yeah, my sister is a total a perfectionist. She is currently attending UTK as a sophmmore, planning for medical school. But she is mserable because she will never reach the point of “perfection”.

  4. avatar Lori Bielek says:

    Thank you to everyone who posted personal comments. Many of us are learning to manage our desire to be perfect. Just remember that it is a process of accepting yourself and growing into your skin as an adult. As long as you are aware of your perfectionist tendencies you can work to improve on them. Your personal development is a lifelong journey, not a destination. You might as well enjoy the journey!

  5. avatar Julias says:

    I definitely agree with this. Perfectionists try to get the approval and/or the recognition of their work from others. They try not to disappoint the people that are counting on them.

  6. avatar rosalia york says:

    this is really true! i can be a perfectionist when it comes to my art. i want it to be the best thing ever, but then i end up either never finishing it or i let myself down because it wasn’t what i wanted. i see now that there is no such thing as perfection, but strive to the best of your abilities.

  7. avatar rosalia york says:

    Perfection is the wrong way to go. You’ll never get anywhere if you strive for perfection. Instead do your best, strive to be the best that you can be to the best of your abilities and then you’ll see you can do great things.

  8. avatar Facebook User says:

    Perfection – why is is that some of us are such perfectionit? I’ve met many and I still don’t understand it. Many of these folks will not try anything until they are certain they will succeed. Consequently, they fail because they never try. Alternately, they hit up against a deadline and have to do something. At this point it’s not their fault they weren’t successful – it’s because they didn’t have enough time. On the other hand, I’ve recently listened to the book by the famous Bodo Shaefer found by SE and realized that you must believe in yourself and strive for perfection in order to achieve smth in your life. The right thing to do is probably to find the golden middle of these two extremes;)

  9. avatar batterie says:

    They try not to disappoint the people that are counting on them.

Leave a Reply

You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

  • Dan Schawbel

    Dan Schawbel, the founder of the Student Branding Blog, is a world renowned personal branding expert, the international bestselling author of Me 2.0, as well as the publisher of the Personal Branding Blog.

  • Connect With Dan

  • Chelsea Rice

    Chelsea Rice is the editor-in-chief of the Student Branding Blog. She began her work for just before graduating from Boston University, where she studied journalism and minored in international relations.

  • Connect With Chelsea

  • Recognition

    • Recommended resource - The Washington Post
    • "A terrific way for students to learn about branding" - Lindsey Pollak
    • "Worth checking out" - Psychology Today
    • HR World's top 100 management blogs