By Sue Said
How many times have you heard someone describe themselves as a perfectionist?
Perfectionism has become everyone’s favourite flaw. For something that supposedly holds us back, it’s fascinating how many of us wear perfectionism as if it were a badge of honour and celebrate as we hold it up as a trophy of success.
Studies show that although those who strive for perfection are motivated to work harder and tend to be more conscientious, they don’t necessarily achieve more. How does this make sense? Wouldn’t striving to be perfect help us reach our goals better? Is perfectionism holding us back?
Psychologists describe perfectionism as the overwhelming need to be perfect or to achieve a flawless outcome in whatever we do. Most of us engage in some form of perfectionism throughout our lives, with some of us full-timer perfections feeling the constant need to reach unrealistically high targets.
Last year I became obsessed with perfecting my 10km run – my goal was to keep my heart rate in the perfect zone throughout the entire run. Being an all-or-nothing perfectionist, I decided to dedicate all my workout time to running, so I ran 10km per day, every day. I did not stretch or engage in strength training, as this, in my mind, would be time I could have spent perfecting my run.
Unsurprisingly, this led to an injury, which I continued to train through to avoid admitting defeat, until one day I could barely walk. My obsession with running the perfect 10km led me to lose out on training time and the opportunity to participate in the Paris half marathon.
Perfectionism comes at a cost – it robs us of time and opportunity, two of the most valuable and limited assets we have. This can be applied to any aspect of our lives; our relationships, our careers, our lifestyle, and, of course, our finances.
Michael Hyatt once said, “Perfectionism is the mother of procrastination”, which you can read more about in my article on procrastination here.
Procrastination is the act of putting off doing something that’s not enjoyable and, instead, doing something that is. If there is one thing that perfectionists don’t enjoy doing, it is something they fear they cannot, or have tried and failed to execute perfectly. Unfortunately, many times, perfectionists set themselves up for failure by setting out to reach unattainably high standards.
Take budgeting, for example. A budget is a plan that allocates your earnings toward your expenses, loan payments and savings. Much like diets, if done too strictly, budgets can be hard, and difficult to stick to rigidly.
Perfectionists, however, are anything but rigid. They will read up and study all available guidelines to create the most perfect, strict, and unrealistic budget possible. At the first slip, the perfectionist inner voice tells you that you have failed and paralyses you, discouraging you from trying to budget again.
Next time this happens, consider revisiting your budget, adjusting it, building in a buffer for contingencies, and trying again. The key here is to calibrate your standards until you reach a budget that is realistic for you. This will create the opportunity for you to see where you can save some money. Consider how many times you said you were on a diet, ate one piece of chocolate, and figured that since you broke your diet you can eat the whole maxi-sized bar, pretending to forget that you were ever on a diet. I know this has happened to me many times.
On the topic of dieting, how many times have you heard yourself, or someone around you say, “I will start my diet once it gets warmer”, “I will start my diet on Monday”…?
Much like finding the perfect time to start a diet is impossible, finding the perfect time to start looking at your finances and saving is also not possible. This is where perfectionists suffer, and why perfectionism leads to procrastination.
As Michael Hyatt puts it, if “you sit on something until it is ‘perfect’, you miss a lot of opportunities”. When it comes to our finances, a missed opportunity costs us a lot in terms of time and even money.
We put off investing because we feel it is not the right time to enter the market, we avoid saving for retirement because we feel like we have not yet reached that age or stage in life, or we avoid investing because we feel that we do not have enough money to invest or knowledge to do so properly.
The reality is however that the best time to start something is always now, be it exercising, eating healthy, or looking at your finances. Especially your finances – the earlier you start, the more time you have, and the better off you will be in the long-run. It’s the small, consistent actions over time that will lead you to big results, and this is the kind of success that needs celebrating.
Our two cents: Stop chasing perfection – it doesn’t exist. Neither does the perfect time to start saving and investing, nor the perfect amount of wealth to have when you start. It doesn’t matter that you don’t have all the answers or knowledge to start investing – that’s what advisors are for. You just need to get started.