From the VetPartners Experts: Is Perfectionism Weighing You Down?

Aug 14, 2019 at 9:48 am
Kristina Guldbrand

per·​fec·​tion·​ism  |  noun
: A disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable
(Merriam Webster)

Perfectionism is on the rise, affecting more Americans than ever before. It used to be perceived as a positive trait you could use to show others you were hard working, detail oriented, and meticulous in your work. However, we have discovered perfectionism is a multidimensional trait, meaning it has a positive and negative side.

Negative perfectionism

In the veterinary field we all want to be perfect, because when we aren’t lives are on the line. When we are not perfect, we often don’t know what to do, and we turn the blame on ourselves or others. Blame, judgement, and shame can become a crux used to motivate ourselves and others to be better. An article written by Dr. Brené Brown states, “Perfectionism is not the key to success. In fact, research shows perfectionism hampers achievement and is correlated with depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis, or missed opportunities.”

Another study shows a correlation between perfectionism and burnout. When individuals set impossibly high standards it creates distress, which can lead to burnout, decreased psychological well-being, and emotional exhaustion. Perfectionism can also lead to procrastination when individuals become paralyzed by the fear of failure, making mistakes, or being criticized by others. This inhibits growth and striving toward realistic goals. 

There are three different ways perfectionism can manifest: 

  • Self-oriented perfectionism — Being uneasy with the errors you make in your own work
  • Other-oriented perfectionism — Having unrealistic expectations of others
  • Socially prescribed perfectionism — Feeling pressure from others to be perfect (e.g., the better I do, the better I am expected to do)

Positive perfectionism

Positive perfectionism is about doing your best regardless of the outcome. Proactive behaviors, like striving to do your best, can be protective against the negative aspects of perfectionism. Positive perfectionism can also delay the effects of burnout by maintaining a sense of accomplishment and healthy striving. 

How to be proactive instead of reactive 

  1. Let go of criticismIt can be hard to trust yourself to let go of the negative self talk that weighs you down. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been proven to help those with perfectionism let go of negative self talk. CBT will help you identify thinking errors and guide you to challenge negative thoughts so you can move forward. Check out this helpful CBT workbook.
  2. Ask for help — No one likes asking for help. It takes a lot of courage to admit when you can’t do it alone. At a young age we are taught that asking for help equals weakness. However, the opposite is true. Asking for help can add value and trust to relationships while lightening your mental load.
  3. Set healthy expectations
    • Let go of the outcome
      • Start your day with, “I am going to do the best job I can.” If the expectation isn’t about what the end of the day looks like, you are setting yourself up for success.
    • Stay flexible
      • Staying flexible in life is extremely hard. If something throws you off ask yourself, “What do I want to do with this information?” Staying curious and flexible can lead to other opportunities you may have not been aware of before. 
    • Have a backup plan
      • If you have a crazy idea, like starting your own business, and you are determined to achieve it all on your own, go for it, but make sure you have a backup plan. 
      • Get clear on why your goal is important to you, and brainstorm the different ways you can get there.
    • Check in with yourself  
      • Schedule time to check in with yourself and evaluate how you’re feeling.
      • Let go of the word “should” and focus on what the situation really is. 

While we all want to be the best for our clients and patients, setting the unachievable goal of being perfect limits our ability to do what we love. If you start to let go of criticism, ask for help, and set up healthy expectations, you will experience a new life full of healthy achievements and growth.


Want to improve your well-being and learn how to rein in your perfectionism? Find a business or life coach here.

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Kristina Guldbrand grew up in Austin, Texas, and graduated from Colorado State University with a bachelor's degree in biology with a concentration in neuroanatomy and physiology. She worked as a certified veterinary technician for 12 years before becoming an account manager for Veterinary System Services (VSS). In her role as a manager, she helped veterinary hospitals with their staffing needs and discovered her love of leadership and well-being. Since starting work with VSS, she has received training through the International Coaching Federation and leads workshops, provides leadership and well-being coaching, and facilitates team-building for practices. She continues to expand her knowledge on perfectionism, neuroleadership, adult learning techniques, communication, and organizational psychology to provide up-to-date and effective techniques to her clients.

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