Lukas Rosenstock's Blog

Lukas Rosenstock's Blog

Perfectionism is a topic of interest for me, so I was pleased to learn that Anwar Al-Kandari hosts an Interintellect salon on the subject. The event time wasn’t working well for me, so I could only attend for the first one-and-a-half hours, but I found these already quite valuable. Hence, I decided to make another little salon write-up for my blog to work through my notes.

Interintellect salons typically start with an intro question. Anwar asked us how perfectionism affects various aspects of our lives. Most of us had stories to tell about the negative aspects of perfectionism, with one participant going as far as calling it a “disease”. Another one said she saw perfectionism destroy other people, which made her views turn 180 degrees. But why is perfectionism so dangerous?

The most significant risk is that nothing ever gets done. We either never even start or spend time doing research (“procrasti-learning”) instead of doing the work we need to do and learn-by-doing. Perfectionism is incompatible with finite budgets, and we all have limits. Another danger is that we become unable to celebrate small wins and only focus on our shortcomings. Quite likely, the practice of “ghosting” another person comes from applying perfectionism to communication and conversations. It can also hurt relationships when we enter them with ideas about, e.g., the “perfect marriage”.

A recurring theme of the conversation was comparisons. We tend to compare ourselves with people we want to be like, but these people are often the best in a specific field. That can set an unattainable standard. A root cause for perfectionism could be that a person develops a taste for quality within a particular area, let’s say music, before acquiring the skills to produce the same quality themselves. A critical thought from the salon that I previously expressed in my musings on “parallel focus” and “serial focus” is that you can hardly compare, for example, the results of your part-time passion for playing music with full-time professional musicians. We also talked about comparing ourselves to people who are at a different stage of their lives. An older person had more time to refine their skills while at the same time there’s some pressure on succeeding young. Competitiveness in your childhood, such as being compared with siblings, doesn’t help. From my experience, though, I can attest that the focus on age becomes less as you grow older yourself. Once it’s physically impossible to make the “30 under 30” lists, life gets more relaxed. Getting to know people who “made it” at a young age can also be eye-opening to see that not all that glitters is gold.

On top of that, what can we do to become less perfectionist? There is no simple cure, but the approach should be to set focus on the process of creation rather than the results. Try to reframe your inner critic as your inner editor. The voice inside your head doesn’t want to criticize you; it just wants you to improve. Humans are always changing and growing throughout their entire lives. Nevertheless, we also have to remind ourselves that even being our best selves is different from perfect. And be careful not to become a perfectionist about not being a perfectionist!