Career Advice from a Diagnosed Perfectionist

I’m a diagnosed perfectionist and I’m coming clean! And I know there are more of you out there! And this post is for you.

I haven’t really talked about job searching or careers for a little while on the blog. Honestly, after talking about both for the majority of last year, I needed a bit of a break.

But then came in some fresh inspiration and I knew I needed to write about it. I’m nearing the one year mark at my job and although it’s been a great learning experience thus far (though switching careers is never easy), I still have a bit of that impostor syndrome.

Ever Had with Imposter Syndrome? You’re Not Alone

Anyone else know what I’m talking about? You know that feeling when you’re in a job that you’re totally qualified for, but for some reason you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing or you question everything you know?

I had this when I first started working in advertising, and I’ve got it now working in digital marketing. When I worked in advertising, I blamed that feeling on my inexperience. I majored in film production in university and had all but 4 months of office experience.

After 3 1/2 years though, I pretty much felt like a pro. Alas, that wasn’t the career for me, and I decided to switch over to a career in marketing. So, I went back to school and eventually got my current job.

Ever Felt Like Getting Some Help Along the Way? I’m There With You Too

I’ve blogged about my journey into a new career quite a bit, but something I never mentioned is during that time I also saw a counsellor. My first year living in Toronto was really rough.

Starting a new life without knowing anyone was probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. I sought out some help to cope with everything better, and one of the things I learned about myself was that I am a perfectionist. My counsellor literally diagnosed me as a classic perfectionist. I had no idea this was an actually thing in the psychological world, and I’d honestly never really thought about myself like that.

Looking back, it makes perfect sense though. I’ve always been someone who wants to do everything the right way, even though that’s a completely unrealistic expectation to set for oneself. In order to learn something new, you’re not going to know how to do it perfectly on your first try. Mistakes and failures are par for the course, and it’s something I know I’ll struggle with throughout my adulthood.

So, in case any of you other perfectionists are out there reading this and going through something similar, I wanted to share some of the things I try to do to not let my perfectionism hold me back in my career or let that stupid impostor syndrome mess with my head too much.

And yes, perfectionism can actually be a weakness (but maybe don’t say that in an interview, it just makes you sound pretentious).

Tip 1 – Acknowledge, Note and Move On

Mistakes happen. I hate that in school you were taught that mistakes were bad, because they really are an essential part of the learning process. If you never made a mistake, how would you learn what not to do?

The key is to acknowledge when you’ve made a mistake, note how to avoid making it again and then move on. As a perfectionist, I have a really hard time letting go after I’ve make a mistake. I know it’s never fatal (thank god I’m not a surgeon!), but I always beat myself up when I make one (not matter how minor).

That’s just not healthy though, is it? Unless you want to live your life as one big stress ball, do as Elsa from Frozen does and let it go!

Tip 2 – Don’t Be Scared to Speak Up

It’s important not to shy away from letting your voice be heard just because you fear saying something wrong. Even when I know something and I hear someone contradict it, I often question my knowledge instead of questioning theirs.

Unless I have 100% certainty that I’m right and I have all the facts readily available to back me up, I’ll usually just keep my mouth shut until I can fact check (and by that time it’s usually too late to say my peace). Trust your instincts and be confident in your knowledge.

Don’t be afraid to speak up and lean in, because if you don’t do those things, you’ll have a tough time moving up in your career.

Tip 3 – Stop Taking Yourself So Seriously

In general, I consider myself to be a pretty positive, happy-go-lucky person. But at the end of the day, I am so not an easy going person and can take myself a bit too seriously sometimes.

Yes, life is hard and so is building a career, but you’ve got to lighten up perfectionists! Have some fun, leave your work at work, and stop letting worry and fear control your life.

You only live once, so make sure that one life is filled with as much joy and peace as possible.

Are you a diagnosed perfectionist (or maybe still undiagnosed) or have you ever suffered from impostor syndrome?

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Showing 12 comments
  • Taylor Lee @ Engineer Cents
    Reply

    I don’t know if I’m a perfectionist but I’ve suffered from imposter syndrome at nearly every job I’ve ever had (also pretty bad during college). At some point, after working for about a year at my current place, I realized that our resident experts, though very intelligent, just had more on-the-ground experience than I did. Which meant, yes, sometimes they could figure out a problem faster than I could. But other times I had the advantage because I was already in constant-learning constant-research mode. It’s been tough but, two and a half years with some more junior employees having joined I can see how much I’ve learned and feel a little bit more like I’m keeping up and fitting it.

    • Jessica Moorhouse
      Reply

      I think a lot of women deal with impostor syndrome (which I learned about after reading Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In”). It’s comforting to know that other people go through the same thing, but man does it still suck!

  • carly
    Reply

    Yes to imposter syndrome!! I have it at my current job… it was really, really bad the first 3 months and now it’s getting better but some days, I’m like “damn! what the hell do I do!?”
    I do think I’m a perfectionist, and it’s hard to shake it. I also think I’m becoming a selective perfectionist, where my home has to be clean/tidy all the time, but I’m easy going with other things, especially at work.
    And moving to a new place with no friends is always difficult, even in the age of social media and easy connectivity. I actually find it harder to make friends the older one gets!

    • Jessica Moorhouse
      Reply

      Well you’ve only been at your job for a few months, so I’m sure in a few more months the impostor syndrome will start to dissipate. And ya, making new friends is definitely harder the older you get. When you were in school there were so many opportunities to make new friends, but when you’re an adult in the working world, not so much. Luckily I have made quite a few friends by blogging which is pretty neat (even if they don’t live in the same city).

  • Rob
    Reply

    Oh yeah, Jess, I can definitely say that I’m a Type A perfectionist (up to a point, which I’ll go into later) and so is our daughter, probably even more so. I’ll always remember when she was very young and scored a perfect 100 in a test at school. She still went after her teacher, asking why she also didn’t receive her “bonus marks” (which the students could also earn, based on varies criteria). Of course this would have given her a 103 score but that was beside the point in her young mind! 🙂

    You say “I always beat myself up when I make one”, referring to any mistake made. Above I mentioned that I was a perfectionist also – but up to a point. By this I mean that, over the years and through experience, I have adopted my to-live-by motto: “Don’t sweat the small stuff because everything in life is just that – small stuff”. In other words, place the proper importance in whether you hit or miss in getting things done right.

    It’s a known fact that we are our own harshest critic. That little voice in our minds is always nattering at us to improve. It’s natural. So is it natural to feel that impostor syndrome that you mention. We all have it to some extent. Actually it’s good to have it somewhat because otherwise you might feel too complacent and get bored with what you were doing. Being a tad hungry to get ahead – aka ambition – and not rest on your laurels is how to succeed in my books.

    So in closing, just so you know, that little Type A daughter of ours? Well she’s a “bit older” now and just recently became a Sr. VP. So there ya go – us perfectionists do have a future! 🙂

    • Jessica Moorhouse
      Reply

      Yay for a happy ending! Fingers crossed my perfectionism won’t be a hindrance but a benefit to my career. Thanks for the great comment as always Rob 🙂

  • Lindsey P.
    Reply

    I suffer from the same perfectionist illness. It can definitely be a detriment and hold us back! Giving ourselves permission to fall down and even fail is such an important part of the learning process, but it’s something I have to remind myself of as well. Thanks for sharing!

    • Jessica Moorhouse
      Reply

      That’s a great way of putting us. We need to remind ourselves to give ourselves permission to fall down and fail. Perfectionism shouldn’t be the end goal, but learning as much as we can should be.

  • Bridget
    Reply

    NOoope

    Or if I used to I don’t anymore.

    I’ve gotten really comfortable with saying “I’m not very good at this” and knowing that doesn’t mean the sky will fall in. I’m getting really obsessive about the “best possible” places to direct my energy and if I’m not good at something, I ask myself 1) why 2) is it important to be good at this thing 3) how many hours is it worth to become good at this thing — and make my decision from there.

    On the other hand, I beat myself up CONSTANTLY for underachievement. It doesn’t even matter how many people tell me how many times “blah blah you’re doing so well blah blah MBA, nice job, happy relationship blah blah” I am having a flat-out crisis over the fact that I know someone that had successfully exited four start-ups by age 29 and I haven’t even launched my first one.
    I might be the type of person that will never be satisfied with any level of income or career prestige, but I’m never seeking a definite level of achievement, I only want to ever do “better”. Given that accepting things as they are, and loving what you have, and so on are at the heart of absolutely every talk on the purpose of life, I’m grappling with a dangerous beast. And that has been an interesting conversation with myself: do I want to work on accepting things as they are or do I want to keep pushing myself, understanding that a perpetual dissatisfaction with the status quo is a side effect?

    In retrospect this is probably some kind of neurotic perfectionism of its own. At this point it has not declined into anything I would “unhappiness” but I suppose the threat is always there.

    • Jessica Moorhouse
      Reply

      Haha while I was reading this I was thinking to myself “sounds sort of like some perfectionism to me.” I think that’s so awesome that you want to push yourself constantly, I’m the same way. But like you said, it’s a dangerous beast. If you always live like that, will you ever really be satisfied? Right now, I have no idea because I also don’t have a specific end goal. I just want to get better and better.

  • MarieMakesCents
    Reply

    I am definitely both a perfectionist and suffering from a bit of imposter syndrome.

    One thing that I’ve finally come to realize (at the age of 27) and accept is that: It is, what it is. I can hold onto something I said wrong, or might be taken the wrong way, and cringe about it for days, thinking about all the ways I could have done it better. Or I can accept that what is done is done and move on. It’s too late to take something back or change it like it never happened, so you may as well acknowledge it happened and move on. Of course I apologize and try to make something right if I’ve really erred, but 8 times out of 10 it’s my own personal anxiety and need to be “perfect” that is the real problem.

    It’s too easy for folks like us to undervalue our achievements, which is where I think you’re right in that we definitely need to stop taking ourselves so seriously. We kick butt!

    • Jessica Moorhouse
      Reply

      Absolutely, what’s done is done and you just need to move on, Easier said that done, but definitely something worth working on.

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