Research has linked perfectionism to anxiety, depression and other mental health concerns, but perfectionism can also be a good thing. Perfectionists see how the world around them can be better – and when wielded in a healthy way, the characteristic can be a powerful vehicle for change. It’s a force that can be constructive and also destructive, depending on how you manage it. The key is to understand your own brand of perfectionism.
1. Intense perfectionist: Striving for success at all costs
Intense perfectionists are effortlessly direct and maintain a razor-sharp and sometimes punishing focus when it comes to achieving their goals.
People like Steve Jobs or Gordon Ramsay” come to mind. They are great at generating outcomes, but sometimes they prize it so much that they lose the sense of relationship-building in the process.
An intense perfectionist, for example, might have the goal of boarding a flight perfectly. They show up early to the airport with their boarding pass in hand. But at the first sign of trouble – a flight delay, a seat change – the intense perfectionist might lash out at the people around them, like a flight attendant or traveling companion.
If you identify with this type, think about why you’re striving for your goals. If you’re seeking generic markers of success (bigger, better, faster, more), redirect your energies to more specific goals aligned with your own personal values. If you lose sight of the why, you may reach the finish line and find it doesn’t bring you joy or satisfaction.
2. Classic perfectionist: Highly organized and buttoned-up
This is who typically comes to mind when we think of a perfectionist. They’re highly organized, buttoned-up and are going to do what they say they’re going to do.
The pros of the classic perfectionist are that they’re highly reliable and they add structure to any environment they enter. The cons are that they can sometimes not be spontaneous and not as collaborative with others.
Classic perfectionists may keep an immaculately tidy desk or a car that they’re proud to show off to the people around them. However, should someone put a pen in the wrong place or spill coffee on the passenger seat, these types of perfectionists are quick to stress out.
For this type, be careful not to conflate rigidity with inner strength. An overly-structured life leaves little room for discovering new lessons, people or joys.
Named after the effortless fashion sense of Parisian women, Parisian perfectionists seek to be viewed as easygoing, uncomplicated and “perfectly liked” by others.
Parisian perfectionists are great at making people feel seen and comfortable – but sometimes at the expense of their own sense of identity.
In a social group setting for example, this type is likely to be the life of the party. But when it comes time to make a group decision – say, picking a restaurant to eat or a movie to watch – a Parisian perfectionist will be quick to defer to the opinions of others to avoid conflict, even if that means foregoing a food they were craving or a movie they desperately wanted to watch.
This type can have a healthier relationship with their perfectionism by clearly explaining their wants and needs, even if that means asserting themselves more in their relationships. For example, instead of saying “I’ve had a hard day” to their roommate and expecting them to pick up the hint that they need help, they should say, “I’m having a hard day because I’ve taken on the lion’s share of the housework. I could really use your help with some of these chores.”
Procrastinator perfectionists wait for the conditions to be perfect before they start working on a project — which doesn’t often happen. As a result, they can get stuck in their hesitation — and left unchecked, it can result in indecisiveness and inaction.
Procrastinator perfectionists don’t suffer from a crisis of confidence. Rather, they are great at understanding their own potential but struggle with sharing their gifts lest they fall short of their own expectations.
This type of perfectionist might spend hours drawing up the perfect business proposal to pitch to their boss at work – but never actually submit it out of fear of rejection.
This type should focus on accepting that now is as good a time as any to start something, say dating or finding a new job. And once things start rolling, they should accept that the process in real life will be different from the idealized version they were imagining.
Messy perfectionists are in love with beginnings. They’re naturally enthusiastic and push through the anxiety of starting a new project with ease. But they can often struggle with follow-through when the tedium of continuing a project doesn’t match the perfect romanticized energy around starting.
This type is often in the middle of a lot of half-baked projects: a half-finished children’s book, a kitchen renovation that’s been stuck in limbo for half a year. Messy perfectionists blatantly ignore limitations and don’t accept the notion that while they can do anything, they can’t do everything.
Messy perfectionists are powerful as champions of possibility – but none of their great ideas can come to fruition without focus. They should practice channeling their enthusiasm into single, intentional projects with easily achievable goals.