5 Toxic Beliefs About Perfection That Ruin Careers

August 10th, 2014 by LaRae Quy

I am in the continual pursuit of perfection. I set high goals and beat myself up when I fail to meet the mark. The verbal attacks I’ve unleashed upon myself would be categorized as emotional abuse if they were inflicted by a parent!

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I’m not the only one who struggles with the toxic and negative messages that our mind produces in the relentless pursuit of perfection.

Great leaders strive to achieve excellence for many reasons. For some, the need for perfection is deeply embedded in a personality type that feels compelled to keep moving toward goals with a high level of integrity. Some are are trained to believe perfection will take them to a high level of success. Still others try to quiet a strong inner critic.

Perfection is seductive because it hints at the promised land; however, it’s more about the ideal than the real when leaders let it sabotage their business and life.

Here are 5 toxic beliefs about perfection that will ruin your career:


Never confuse confuse perfection with competency.

No one expects you to be perfect; they do expect you to be competent. When you lead from a place of competence, you lead from a place of strength. 

Competence alone can’t make you a leader, but being an incompetent leader provides unlimited opportunities for you to be ineffective. Knowing what to do—professional competence—is vital. Being competent doesn’t mean that a leader knows how to do everything, but rather that they know what to do and how to get it done.

Your competence will instill confidence not only in yourself, but in those following you as well.


Remember that your time is worth money. Successful people make decisions on how to make the best use of their time. They do not focus on perfection or being the best; instead, they work on doing what is needed to get the job done.

Henry Ford once was quoted as saying: “It has been my observation that most people get ahead during the time that others waste time.”

Do not waste your time trying to be perfect; instead, invest your time in addressing the issues that are creating roadblocks in your path toward success.


Don’t think you need to have all the answers.  Once you give up the need to have all the answers, you will be able to appreciate the feeling of freedom that comes with it.

As a leader, you don’t need to have all the answers or have superhuman traits. The difference between you being a successful or not so successful leader depends on how you deal with the questions you do not have an answer for. 

Resist the urge to be a perfect know-it-all and step back. Do not be afraid to respond by probing and asking even more questions—but focus on asking the right questions so the answers will lead you closer to finding success.


You do need to be impressive as a leader, but if you rely upon perfection to make those good impressions, you will be living beneath a mask. The reason? When you spend so much time manipulating everyone’s perception of you, you are forfeiting something far more important—your authenticity.

Don’t worry about what others want you to be, or their judgments of you. You know in your heart who you are, what provides meaning and value to you, and where your journey is taking you.

You do not need to be perfect to be impressive. Instead, let others be inspired by the way in which you deal with your imperfections.


Perfection does not always lead to success. Often, success is learning on the go so we can pivot to meet new challenges or demands of our environment. The desire for perfection will cripple our need to adapt to fast-moving situations where minds need to remain nimble and flexible. 

The rules of the game change every day, as new information is taken in and processed. Leaders who are mentally strong are constantly moving and adapting until they find something that works.

When the path ahead is not clear, the desire for perfection is a hindrance to eventual success because it impedes a nimble mindset.

I have always found that Mary, mother of Jesus, was a great example of a person with a nimble mind. When the virgin discovers that she is pregnant, all she asks the angel is one simple clarifying question, “How will this be,” Mary asked (Luke 1:34 NIV). 

Not if but how, and then she trusts the how even though it defies logic and pushes the boundaries of her understanding of what can and should happen.

Her example is a one of confidence, grace, and calm—and that is perfect freedom.

What other toxic beliefs about perfection can you add?

© 2014 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.


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4 Responses to “5 Toxic Beliefs About Perfection That Ruin Careers”

  1. Alli Polin says:

    More spot on insights from you! I”m a recovering perfectionist too 🙂

    I’ve seen more projects lose money due to over runs not because the work couldn’t be completed on time but because it had to be beyond perfect (is that possible??). At some point, meeting expectations and being competent ceased to be enough as everyone is on a quest to reach superstar status. There is always room for people that consistently give their best.

    Thanks, LaRae!

  2. Bill says:

    Great post, LaRae,

    One thing I’ve encountered with perfectionists, especially with new leaders, has often been a lack of confidence.

    These are leaders who seem to suffer from imposter syndrome. They have this unfounded belief others are going to find out they’re not fit to be in the position they’re in, so they overcompensate by setting unrealistic standards for themselves.

  3. Karin Hurt says:

    This is so true. I’ve seen perfectionism hold people back from promotions. They’re so stuck in getting every detail perfect that they miss the big picture. It’s important to know when to sweat the small stuff and when to let it go.

  4. Excellent points LaRae! I especially relate to “perfection is impressive”. NOT! I am working with someone now who is a real perfectionist. She over processes everything and as a result little movement can be made. She also burned herself out so much that she ended up moving from a full time to a part time position.

    My take on perfectionism is that we really can’t do it all perfectly. So I have learned to pick and choose where I want to focus my energy and try to stop worrying about other areas.

    Thanks for making me stop to think and breathe!

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