the greatest mistake you can make in life is continually fearing you'll make one

Did you know?

Every year, the first year class at the University of Michigan is full of students from around the state, country and world who have achieved some of the highest grades, standardized test scores, and awards available.

Without a doubt, U-M campuses are full of bright students, academic pressures, and high expectations for success. However, contrary to popular belief, perfection is not required to succeed.

  • Do you feel like what you accomplish is never quite good enough, that you “could have done better?”
  • Do you find yourself completing your papers or projects at the last minute, waiting to make them just right?
  • Do you feel you must give more than 100% on everything you do or else you will be mediocre or even a failure in comparison to others?

If so, rather than simply working toward success, you may be trying to be perfect, and there exists quite a difference between aiming for a successful life and trying to achieve perfection.


What is Perfectionism?

Perfectionism is a “set of self-defeating thoughts and behaviors aimed at reaching excessively high unrealistic goals.”

For many who fall prey to certain perfectionistic behaviors succeeding means setting excessively high personal standards; a chronic concern over mistakes; a need for, and pursuit of, organization; and frequent doubts about one’s actions (Greenspon, 2008).

Perfectionists believe that mistakes must never be made and the highest level of performance must always be achieved. It is important for students to understand the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism 

  • Healthy strivers are able to experience genuine pleasure in trying to meet their high standards.
  • Perfectionists are full of self doubts, fear of disapproval, and ridicule and rejection.


Perfectionistic Thinking and Behavior

Many people think of perfectionism as something positive as it is mistakenly seen as a pursuit of excellence. People hold the belief that aiming for perfection allows them to be efficient, organized, and prepared. However, perfectionism can have the opposite effect. Perfectionism is a paradox. As one’s perfectionism increases, they are most likely to feel frustrated and upset rather than fulfilled.  Setting high expectations can be motivating and quite healthy. However, when taken to the extreme, our productivity can actually decrease. Perfectionists frequently experience many of the symptoms listed below:

  • Fear of failure. Perfectionists often equate failure to achieve their goals with a lack of personal worth or value.
  • Fear of making mistakes. Perfectionists often equate mistakes with failure. In orienting their lives around avoiding mistakes, perfectionists miss opportunities to learn and grow.
  • Fear of disapproval. If they let others see their flaws, perfectionists often fear that they will no longer be accepted. Trying to be perfect is a way of trying to protect themselves from criticism, rejection, and disapproval.
  • All-or-none thinking. Perfectionists frequently believe that they are worthless if their accomplishments are not perfect. Perfectionists have difficulty seeing situations in perspective. For example, a “straight A” student who receives a “B” might believe, “I am a total failure.”
  • Overcompensating. Performing a behavior in an excessive manner to try to ensure nothing goes wrong
  • Excessive Checking and Reassurance Seeking. Checking and/or seeking reassurance from others that a task has been done well enough or that all standards are met
  • Excessive Organizing and List Making. Spending so much time getting organized that it interfere with getting tasks completed
  • Procrastination: Putting off doing things for fear of not meeting standards
  • Avoidance. Avoiding doing something all together for fear of not meeting standards.


Consequences of Perfectionism

In fact, when performed excessively, perfectionistic behavior can have an affect that is opposite of what the person intended. Perfectionists are more likely to experience decreased productivity, impaired health, troubled interpersonal relationships, and low self-esteem. Perfectionists are also vulnerable to: