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Agents of Aspiration – Protect from Perfectionism

He plonked himself down in his chair, the air releasing slowly from the leather cushions as he sank into it. He tried to suppress the emotions welling up inside him but he couldn’t hold it back. Tears streamed down his face in tune with his thoughts of the day. Nothing had been good enough for his boss today. None of the thoughts he had shared in the review meeting had quite measured up. He had studied psychology at college, so knew all about ‘socially-prescribed perfectionism’ and the unrealistic expectations of perfection from others, but it didn’t stop the innate feelings of worthlessness that he felt inside himself. He didn’t blame his boss for it. He knew he was under pressure to hit the targets and become the best, but this pressure was too much.

Our role as leaders is to aspire to greater things and take our team there with us to achieve it. However, having our colleagues collapse into a chair at night thinking they are worthless is far from being an agent of aspiration. So, the last blog in this series is to clarify the boundary between aspiration and perfectionism, and to protect ourselves and others from crossing it.

What is perfectionism?

Psychology Today describes perfectionism as ‘setting unrealistically high standards of yourself or others. Perfectionism is driven primarily by internal pressures, such as the desire to avoid failure or harsh judgment’. The last part of this helps clearly define a boundary; perfectionism is about avoiding the mistakes, while aspiration is about achieving the best that you can. Psychology Today has a helpful explanation to help see what is unhelpful about perfectionism:

There is a difference between striving for excellence and demanding perfection. Adaptive perfectionists set lofty goals, have high standards, and work relentlessly hard for their success; they are achievement-oriented, whereas maladaptive perfectionists are failure-oriented. Adaptive perfectionists desire growth, enjoy being challenged, and problem-solve well.

Doing the best

My granny had a phrase, ‘as long as you do your best’, closely followed by a small suck of her teeth and rub of her hands and an offer of a cheese sandwich or a little cake. She may have stopped work years before, but she knew what was important. Many years later, The High-Performance Podcast have followed my Gran’s mantra with

Do the best that you can

With all that you have

In the moment that you are in.

And there lies again a boundary for aspiration. It is all about doing your best in any one moment. It is not about what could have been or should have been, it is about entering into the moment with all that you have, to bring the best in that moment. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Clear descriptions

We can avoid people feeling the deficit feeling when we make clear the boundaries. I am not expecting perfection from you, I am simply asking you to aspire to bring the best that you can in this moment. We examine with people at the start, what can you bring? When you bring your best what can it achieve for the team?


Can we help you?

Have you got the balance right for you and your team? If you want to explore how to get that balanced mindset for yourself, we can help with coaching. Maybe one of your team has developed maladaptive perfectionism and would like help reframing their position. We can help with that. Give us a call on 01449 710438 if you would like us to help you explore this and empower you and your team.

Everyday Leader is here to empower, inspire and equip you to do that. If we can help you find a way forward, through coaching, training or consultancy, do let us know. Contact us now:


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