Stress, burn-out, and coping requires that we come to understand our own perfectionistic traits. Perfectionism forces us to take on too much, to be impatient, angry, hostile, and competitive. We feel that we must have things done a certain way. It drives us to work all the time, making it difficult to relax and have fun and relationships.

A hard driving perfectionist demands more of others and of himself/herself. Perfectionism can be a deadly trait in the workplace, especially if the perfectionist is the boss. A ten year study of 9,000 managers found that perfectionism makes you sick. Perfectionism causes many common ailments such as heart disease, hypertension, stomach distress, headaches, back pains, and migraines.

Perfectionists are super-competent, hard-working, bright people. Perfectionists are too locked into their own need to be perfect to realize the distress they cause others. In fact, a true perfectionist’s compulsion to do more and be better can drive other people crazy. Never satisfied with their own efforts, perfectionists are seldom satisfied with others.

Perfectionists have a hard time letting others do things themselves, without telling them how it must be done in detail. Perfectionists have a great deal of difficulty stepping back, being empathetic with others or being self-forgiving for doing something less than perfectly. Perfectionists see themselves as “champions of quality,” setting very high “standards of quality.” However, one side effect of this is that perfectionists can’t get close to anybody, although this is often hard to admit as this would requires one to be “less than perfect”.

But What if I Make the Wrong Decision?

We all like feelings of certainty. In fact, this desire is so strong that we often delay making a decision out of a fear of it being the wrong one. While we secretly suspect that we’re overanalyzing, we can’t shake the feeling that our decision is doomed to failure. The problem is that the more we worry, the less we can effectively make a decision.

The real problem is one of absolutes. As the saying goes, there are no absolutes in life; only shades of grey. Another way of stating this is that although the world is fundamentally analog, we prefer digital representations of it.

With digital, there are only every two possible values:  Good or bad; Yes or no; Up or down; Zero or One. With analog, there are a large number of possible values: 1 – infinity; ranges of very good to very bad; literal shades of grey. Computers use digital signals for storage efficiency. Real life, however, uses analog: Heart rates, the sound of our own voice, and even telephone conversations on old-style landlines.

Good and bad are easy to work with, and they simplify our decision making. But digital decision making isn’t realistic. The world doesn’t easily reduce to yes or no, good or bad, or ones or zeros. As a result, no one can ever be entirely sure that they are making the right decision until after the fact.  When we look back on our decision later, we can evaluate it with the advantage of perspective.

The real question shouldn’t be whether a decision is right or wrong. It should be whether a particular decision has the potential to yield a desirable result. And that humble transition from digital decision making to analog is what makes us human and gives us something digital cannot: Possibility, opportunity, and probability.


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