Striving for perfection is all very well, and it’s OK when it acts as a driver to push you to do better or achieve more. But, there’s a serious downside.

Fear of not being good enough or of getting it wrong leads people to make demands on themselves to such a point that they become stupid. It also limits their confidence.

By stupid I mean they lose sight of something so that they act in a limited, or unintelligent, way. I’m not accusing anyone of being stupid, I saying that in certain situations we can fall into the trap where we lose something of ourselves and become less intelligent.

The knock-on effect of this temporary stupidity is under-confidence, and the effect of that is that people can struggle without getting the help they need, because they are afraid to ask.

I was reminded of this recently while I was presenting a workshop to managers in a large organisation. We had some serious discussion about what their expectations were of themselves and their performance at work.

Fear of being seen as less than perfect in their role meant that they were unable to do a number of things that everyone needs to be able to do from time to time. These included:

  • Not being able to say “I don’t know”
  • Not being able to ask for help (say, when managing a difficult employee or situation)
  • Inability to say “It’s too much for me”
  • Unwillingness to ask for something they needed to do their job better
  • Not being able to go home at a reasonable time after a hard day’s work.

These are just some of the results that I hear about from people who make an illogical connection between getting their needs met and being judged as failing.

You might think that the solution to this is for people to be braver about asking for what they need, but that’s only part of it. Another part is that families, groups, schools and people-systems like organisations should discourage the idea that failure means failing (or should that be failing means failure?).