The Perfect Type: The Problem of Perfection

"Have no fear of perfection - you'll never reach it." - Salvador Dali

Each personality type has a different relationship with perfection. Analysts are all about finding the perfect system or tinkering with a system trying to bring it closer to perfect. Diplomats try to nudge the world around them toward a more Utopian existence where everybody is self-actualized and living in harmony. Sentinels find perfection in sticking to rules, standards and traditions. The more they preserve fixed order, the more they feel they are performing their duty in a perfect way. Explorers' self-esteem comes from the degree to which they master a craft or develop a talent. And what is mastery except for reaching toward the perfect execution of a skill.

When we strive to become perfect or create perfection, we know we will never get there. However, in trying, we can get closer to it. By the way, perfectionism is one of the traits captured by the fifth scale (Identity - Assertive vs. Turbulent) in our theoretical model.

There's no harm in doing our best whenever we face a task. Aiming for perfection will put us on the path to "pretty darn good". However, there is an insidious side to seeking perfection that we need to consider.

One problem with perfection is that seeking it can turn even the simplest endeavor into an obsession. George Fisher said, "When you aim for perfection, you discover it's a moving target." Trying to reach for the perfect can become a full-time job if that goal gains too much importance for an individual. The problem with obsessions is that they grab our focus and pull it away from other important things, leading to an unbalanced and, sometimes, an unstable life.

Perfectionism is also a well-known cause of procrastination. When perfection is demanded, mistakes cannot be tolerated. The best way to avoid mistakes is by delaying doing anything. Of course, putting things off then leads to other problems. One of the sure cures for procrastination is to adopt an attitude that says "good enough is good enough" and that the best you can do is alright.

Finally, perfectionism can lead to havoc in relationships. When we seek perfection, we not only burden ourselves with it, but we often project our perfectionism onto others. We begin to expect too much and become intolerant of any mistakes our loved ones make or of any human foibles they might display. We stop accepting them for who they are and start demanding they be their perfect selves as we imagine that should be. Of course, what we imagine is a fabrication that nobody can live up to and that can put a powerful strain on any relationship.

While striving to do the best they can, all types can benefit from occasionally adopting a "the good enough is good enough" approach to life.

  • Analysts will never find the perfect system but they can still continue to improve on the current system. For them, rejecting perfectionism as a goal can be the difference between a useful improvement and a distracting obsession.
  • Diplomats need to remember that ideals are, by definition, concepts of perfection. Concepts are not real things. They are simply thoughts. That doesn't mean ideals shouldn't influence or pull Diplomats in a certain direction. However, they would do well to heed what Voltaire said, echoing many ancient philosophers: "The perfect is the enemy of the good". Constantly striving for impossible goals can distract a person from achieving possible ones.
  • Sentinels might consider that occasionally rules are made to be broken. Too strict concern with how things should be (perfection) rather than what they are can lead to rigidity. Too much rigidity stifles creativity and can alienate those around us.
  • Even though Explorers thrive on attaining mastery, they are probably less bothered by perfectionism than the other types. They tend to live in the here and now and they like to excel in the moment. They probably most reflect the philosophy that life is about the journey and the not destination. Still, they need to be careful not to obsess on any part of the thing they are trying to master.

Do you run into problems with perfectionism? What does that look like for you?

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