Great is often good enough.
At face value, being a perfectionist sounds like a good trait; indeed, it’s always good to strive to do high-quality work. But aiming to do everything perfectly — which is unrealistic — can take a toll on you as an individual and on your financial advisory practice. Countless studies show that endlessly aiming to reach the impossible — in this case, perfectionism — harms your mental health and well-being.
I have at many times in my financial advisory coaching business worked with advisors who were perfectionists. It’s a tough road to travel when you want to do high quality work, but at the expense of your much-needed peace of mind and time off.
Read on below to learn more about how perfectionism hurts you and what you can do to mitigate its effects.
What Is Perfectionism?
People with perfectionism strive to uphold impossibly ambitious standards; no matter how good they are at what they do, they’re never satisfied.
As a financial advisor, you may believe that perfectionism is healthy behavior. After all, mistakes can be costly — for both you and your client. But in reality, perfectionism can lead to depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and in some cases, self-harm. Eventually, long-term perfectionism can even lead you to stop trying to succeed.
No matter how old or young you are, you can be caught up in perfectionist thinking. Even the mildest of cases can prove to be detrimental, so it’s best to nip perfectionist tendencies in the bud as soon as you notice them.
What Are the Traits of a Financial Advisor Perfectionist?
You may think that perfectionists are like achievers; that’s mostly correct. But there are a few key differences. We’ve listed down a few red flags that can help you identify whether you’re a perfectionist. Please take a look at the traits below and try to think whether any of them resonate with you.
Perfectionists often set extraordinary goals for themselves and work hard to achieve them. High achievers do the same, but they can often be satisfied with doing a great job even when they haven’t met all their goals. But perfectionists accept absolutely nothing but perfection.
Perfectionists see “almost perfect” as a failure.
Compared to high achievers, perfectionists are far more critical of themselves. While high achievers tend to support others and take pride in their own accomplishments, perfectionists only see mistakes and imperfections.
Perfectionists are not only hard on themselves; they’re also hard on others. You can imagine that this makes working with perfectionists quite tricky.
Pushed By Fear
High achievers are often motivated by their goals and their passion for achieving them. When they take steps in the right direction, they’re satisfied. Perfectionists, however, strive toward their goals not out of passion but out of fear — fear of failure and fear of being anything less than perfect.
Perfectionists tend to set unreasonable goals for themselves and beat themselves up if — and when — they fail to achieve them. In other words, perfectionists set themselves up for failure.
Focused On Results
Often, high achievers find joy in chasing a goal. They often tend to enjoy the journey toward the goal as much as reaching the goal itself. Oppositely, perfectionists see the destination without minding the journey. They’re so caught up in meeting the goal and avoiding failure that they can’t take time to enjoy the process.
Depressed by Unmet Goals
Perfectionists are far less happy and less relaxed than high achievers. High achievers have the tools needed to bounce back from setbacks and disappointment; perfectionists beat themselves up when their expectations and goals are left unmet.
Fear of Failure
It’s perhaps obvious to you by now that perfectionists are far more afraid than high achievers to fail. Since they’re so concerned with results and are so disappointed by anything less than perfection, they magnify the significance of any failure.
It may sound paradoxical to know that perfectionists are often procrastinators. After all, aren’t perfectionists obsessed with productivity?
Actually, perfectionism and procrastination go hand in hand. Fearing failure as much as they do, perfectionists are so afraid to make mistakes that they become paralyzed and often end up not doing anything at all. This procrastination can lead to stronger feelings of failure, further continuing a vicious and immobilizing cycle.
Since performing below unrealistically high standards causes so much anxiety for perfectionists, they tend to become defensive when receiving constructive criticism. Conversely, high achievers view criticism as valuable feedback that’ll help them grow in the future.
High achievers often have high levels of self-esteem; this isn’t the case with perfectionists. Perfectionists are highly self-critical and unhappy with themselves. This also tends to result from their loneliness and isolation, as a result of pushing others away after being overly critical and judgmental.
How Does Perfectionism Affect My Health?
Perfectionism can severely impact both your mental and physical well-being. In a recent study, researchers found that socially prescribed perfectionism can be highly debilitating. This is a form of perfectionism wherein “individuals believe their social context is excessively demanding, that others judge them harshly, and that they must display perfection to secure approval.”
Numerous studies have found that there is a significant link between perfectionism, anxiety, depression, and suicide. These are just a few of the many mental health problems that may develop due to socially prescribed perfectionism.
An older but still highly cited study found that over half the people who passed away due to suicide were described by their friends and families as “perfectionists.” A similar study found that an alarming number of people who died due to suicide were in the habit of setting unrealistically high expectations of themselves.
As you’ve seen, studies show that perfectionism has a clear detrimental effect on your mental health, physical health, social life, etc. Sadly, these trends have been rising over the last few years and are forecasted to continue in the future — especially in English-speaking cultures. This is a very troubling thought. Luckily, you can treat perfectionism; we’ll discuss more on how to treat perfectionism later on.
4 Ways Perfectionism Affects Your Firm
Aside from its impact on you as an individual, perfectionism can directly and noticeably affect your financial advisory practice. We’ve highlighted four key areas of your practice and how perfectionism may negatively affect these aspects of your firm.
As the business owner, you pull many strings, and many systems rely on you. Accounting, marketing, etc. — many aspects of your business rely on your decisions.
This weight that you carry becomes even heavier if you’re working as the leader of a team; if you’re unclear about what you want because you’re unable to lay out a “perfect” plan, your team will take a heavy blow. They’ll struggle to understand the direction you want to take the firm and how they can help to make your vision a reality.
If you don’t have a plan or you don’t understand who the ideal client for your firm is because you’re too scared to make mistakes, you won’t be able to form a marketing plan and budget. What’s more, you likely won’t be able to grow your network due to fear of failure.
In the mind of a perfectionist, a process that isn’t perfect isn’t worth building. If you’re the owner of your firm and you think this way, you may have many brilliant ideas in your head that you’ll never end up putting down on paper and implementing.
4.The Human Element of Perfectionism
The inability to hire employees on time is often caused by the fear of hiring someone who isn’t “perfect.” This can leave gaps in your team, thereby reducing your firm’s service and performance.
Even if you don’t work with a team, you probably outsource certain aspects of your business. Looking for the perfect person to work with will cause you to not work with anyone at all.
3 Ways to Counter the Harms of Perfectionism
Dealing with the voice inside your head that says you’re not good enough can be difficult. But there are several things you can do to silence your inner critic.
One study led by Madeleine Ferrari of the Australian Catholic University in Sydney found that self-compassion can combat depression in individuals who tend to be perfectionists. Extending compassion and kindness toward yourself consistently, as Ferrari and her team explain, “reduces the strength of the relationship between maladaptive perfectionism and depression for both adolescents and adults.”
Now, self-compassion isn’t something you’re born with. If you don’t feel self-compassionate now, there are many ways to change this gently over time.
It may help to keep a journal of your thoughts and challenge any negative beliefs that come up. Negative beliefs keep us stuck where we are, so it’s best to challenge them and get a feel for whether they are holding you back.
I often tell my clients this phrase:
Perfectionism is the pursuit of unrelenting standards
You can learn self-compassion from a coach such as myself and learn to accept that GREAT is GOOD ENOUGH. You can also take mindful self-compassion training. This often tends to go hand in hand with various forms of meditation and yoga. Not only can they help you combat perfectionist tendencies, but they also help you relax and unwind.
Shift thinking and move from task to leadership
Finally, my approach would be to shift you into LEADERSHIP and being the entrepreneur of your company, rather than a TECHNICIAN focusing on minute details.
It might be helpful for you to step back and take a few moments to accept that whatever goals you set out for yourself, achieving them may be difficult unless you shift to LEADERSHIP. In other words, try to “budget” for being a leader and the hardships and sacrifices involved in reaching your goals.
How Is Perfectionism Treated?
Often, practicing some of the self-help tips in the previous section can significantly reduce perfectionist tendencies. In other cases, however, perfectionism can be harder to treat. If you’re having trouble, it’s important to remember that you can seek help when you need it.
If perfectionism is getting in the way of your life — and your work as a financial advisor — it’s essential to consult your doctor or a mental health professional.
A mental health professional will often suggest that you undergo cognitive-behavioral therapy to treat perfectionism. This form of therapy teaches you how to challenge your current mindset and think differently about your goals and achievements.
Dreaming big and holding yourself to high standards is fantastic, and doing so often allows you to do your best work. But if you constantly strive for “perfect” standards which can never be met, you’re only allowing yourself to suffer. Do your best work, but remember that “great” is often good enough.