Perfectionism is my Superpower

(Cambridge Dictionary) Perfectionist; /pərˈfek·ʃə·nɪst/ noun.

A person who wants very much to get every detail exactly right.

(My version) A person who needs to get everything exactly right. Every time. All the time.

For years, I’ve been asking the wrong question. I’ve been told that my perfectionism wasn’t healthy. It was a bit…obsessive. A bit…too much. A bit… annoying. So I have spent years reading about how to cure my perfectionism, how to minimize it. How to be less annoying.

Can my perfectionism be fixed?

That’s the wrong question, according to Katherine Morgan Schafler, who has written a book that’s changing my life.  In The Perfectionist’s Guide to Losing Control: A Path to Peace and Power , she writes, “Perfectionists are people who consistently notice the difference between an ideal and a reality, and who strive to maintain a high degree of personal accountability.”

Schafler is a psychotherapist who loves working with perfectionists. “Acknowledging that you want more is an act of boldness, and every perfectionist (when they’re being honest, which people generally are in therapy) flaunts a bold streak I’m magnetically drawn towards. “[My perfectionist clients’] energy was charged, magnetic, brimming with infinite potentialities, destructive and constructive all at once.”

She decided to take back her own perfectionism, label it a superpower, and help herself and her clients learn to channel it in ways that made them – and the people around them – happier. She developed a quiz to identify where on the spectrum of perfectionism you might fall (she says there are five different types) and how you can claim your power and find peace with your own tendencies.

You can find the quiz here. If you want to take it, I’ll wait.

Her website says, “I help women who seem completely put together actually feel that way.” She doesn’t practice now, but her book is therapeutic for anyone who has struggled with perfectionism or struggled with a perfectionist.

For those of you who are reading this because you want to learn how to live or work with a perfectionist, I’ll provide a rundown of the five types over the next few posts.

The Classic Perfectionist is, well, classic. It’s what most people imagine when they say the word. They (We) can come off as cold and standoffish. (If you hear that a lot, it’s clue #1 that you might be one.) Schafler says, “Highly self-disciplined, classic perfectionists are adept at presenting in a uniform way, making it difficult to take their emotional temperature.”

But they’re misunderstood, Schafler writes. “Classic perfectionists aren’t trying to be impressive or distance themselves as much as they’re trying to offer to others what they most value themselves: structure, consistency, predictability, an understanding of all the options so as to make an informed choice, high standards, objectivity, clarity through organization.” We love you, and we want things to be perfect for you.

They are the opposite of phony, she says, because their perfectionism reflects exactly who they are and what they want. They’re not afraid to do the work to make things just right. And they work hard no matter how they’re feeling or what’s happening around them.” Classic perfectionists are as reliable in their darkest hour as they are in their brightest; just because they can always show up, that doesn’t mean they’re invincible or that they feel strong on the inside,” Schafler writes. Because they’re a hard act to follow, people don’t always try to get too close. They sometimes mistake the well-organized exterior for all there is. “Classic perfectionists can be left feeling excluded, misunderstood, and underappreciated for all that they do.”

If you feel like this describes you, there’s plenty of great advice in Schafler’s book about how to work with your perfectionism rather than against it. But you may have (or know) a secondary type.

More on the perfectionism spectrum in future posts.

Published by candacemoody

Candace’s background includes Human Resources, recruiting, training and assessment. She spent several years with a national staffing company, serving employers on both coasts. Her writing on business, career and employment issues has appeared in the Florida Times Union, the Jacksonville Business Journal, the Atlanta Journal Constitution and 904 Magazine, as well as several national publications and websites. Candace is often quoted in the media on local labor market and employment issues.

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