Healthy excellence vs perfectionism – What is the line?

Arrow hitting the target perfectly

I facilitated a webinar for a company last week on perfectionism and A LOT of people showed up. The #1 question they asked?

When is striving for excellence and achievement GOOD – and when is it perfectionism?

Such a great question!

Because I know many of you struggle with perfectionism and overachieving, I wanted to answer the question for you too.

Here’s the official, researched response:

Healthy excellence means you can learn from mistakes and let them go. You experiment and try new things and see yourself as worthy and separate from your job or goal, so you don’t personally feel like a failure when something goes wrong.

Perfectionism is believing you cannot fail. It’s just not an option. Your goal or job becomes your identity. You might stop yourself from trying new things because you aren’t certain you’ll be good at them. Or you may work yourself into the ground to make sure you are successful. Your inner critic keeps an archive of all your mistakes and failures, repeating them inside your head over and over. It might feel like life has become a giant report card.

For me, the line is more of a feeling. When I’ve crossed the line, I feel an internal drive to keep working harder to prove myself. I feel like things have to be successful the first time around or that I’m not allowed to fail. There’s usually a tiny pit in my stomach, an underlying feeling of low-level anxiety that isn’t terrible, but it’s persistent.

This feeling is my clue that I need to check-in with myself, do some grounding activities like hiking or cross-country skiing, and say no to more things. This will get me back on the healthy side of the line.

What does that line feel like for you? When do you know you’ve crossed over from healthy excellence to unhealthy perfectionism?

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