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May 2011



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By Therese J. Borchard
Associate Editor

Although perfectionism undoubtedly brings me suffering and pain, I’ve come to appreciate the snobby part of my personality because it also bear gifts, especially over time.

For the last three years, perfectionism has placed me in an okay spot in a terrible economy. Had I not invested so many hours into networking and writing blogs the last five or so years, sometimes on top of full-time employment and other responsibilities, I would not have a job right now. And spending a night or two recently with friends of friends I knew back in high school made me proud of all the therapy and recovery I have done since graduating.

Had I not held myself to a high standard back then, I wouldn’t have quit drinking at the age of 18, and may still be hitting the bars at night.

Perfectionism can even be noble when we are able to turn the neurosis into acts of service, where we help others in similar pain.

However, the same energy that drives me to get up early in the morning and swim so that my brain operates with fewer hiccups than it would without the workout is also the fuel that wraps my brain cells in an OCD loop, in which I have trouble letting go of the decision I made last week, or a mistake I made six years ago, or something in the future that I’m preparing for.

I think the line that determines “bad” perfectionism from “good” perfectionism is drawn with how well you are able to function despite the loud conversation in your head. If the chatty dialogue is so obnoxious that it’s hard for me to get anything done, then I have myself a case of debilitating OCD. However, if the perfectionism and fear of failure propels me to chart a course for recovery (exercise in the morning, therapy on Thursday, a half-hour meditation every day), or if it pushes me to map out an outline for a work project so that I’m not so stressed when I sit down to tackle the thing … it becomes my ally.

In her book, Better By Mistake, author Alina Tugend offers a helpful distinction between good perfectionism and bad perfectionism:

Being a perfectionist isn’t a bad thing; in fact, it may mean you have very high standards and you often meet those standards. Those who have perfectionist tendencies without having those tendencies rule — or ruin — their lives are what psychiatrists call “adaptive” perfectionists. They find it very important to do certain things in the right way, but this need doesn’t hinder their lives and can actually help them achieve great success….

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