Science Explains Why perfectionists always fail in life (even when they “succeed”)

In the year 1547, the 72-year-old, Michelangelo di Lodovico started working on this sculpture
It’s called Florentine Pieta.
Michelangelo put in an enormous amount of effort and energy to make Florentine Pieta the perfect sculpture.
For 8 long years, he worked tirelessly in the day and with a single candle to illuminate his work at night.
However, by 1555 Michelangelo’s servant, Urbino started complaining that his master should finish the 8-year long project and get it out for the world to see.
While Urbino thought the sculpture is perfect already, Michelangelo can’t stop seeing many flaws in it and one night he stood up and decided to destroy his 8-year labor, took a sledge hammer, and in an attempt to destroy Florentine Pieta, Michelangelo chopped off the sculpture’s arms and legs.
Wait a minute!
Why would you destroy something you’ve labored and suffered a decade to create?
Well, Michelangelo was a perfectionist who thought that his work was not good enough and never work on it again.
What even makes this insanely funny is that he was the only person in the world who thought Florentine Pieta wasn’t good enough.
Everyone else saw a masterpiece and today that work stands at the Museum of Opera of Saint Maria of Fiore, Italy.
Like Michelangelo, many people in our world today are perfectionists.
In fact, according to this study by West Virginia University, about 40% of the people reading this article have problems with perfectionism.
And if you’re fortunate to be smarter than most of us, then, this 1999 study suggests that you’re 87 times more likely to be a perfectionist than me, a dumb Nigerian guy who writes boring articles that nobody reads
Let’s get a little serious by asking ourselves; why are people perfectionists?
According to a clinical psychologist, Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo who authored a book, Better Than Perfect: 7 Strategies to Crush Your Inner Critic and Create a Life You Love;
“Perfectionists have an all-or-nothing mindset that’s propelled by a crippling fear of failure. They also have what’s called conditional self-worth. They think ‘I am only a good person if I can achieve these things,'”
Like Michelangelo, perfectionists have a wrong view of the world.
They believe that their works must be perfect.
They’re afraid that not being perfect means that something is wrong with them.
You’re either one of these people or you have one of them very close to you.
I once stayed with a friend who swept his room about five times each day because he hates to see one single piece of dirt on his carpet.
I have some friends who always talk about their business ideas and never get themselves to do anything because they’re waiting for the perfect time.
Many people on YouTube have corrected my grammar even though English is not my first language.
I mean, these people are drunk.
They are expecting perfect situations and outcomes in an imperfect world.
Because perfectionists have a wrong view about the world they live in, they’re often like aliens, the square pegs in a round hole which is the reason why they’re never happy.
For example, this analysis in the Review of General Psychology found that perfectionists are more likely to struggle with depression or anxiety
Sarah Egan, a senior research fellow at the Curtin University in Perth who specializes in perfectionism, eating disorders, and anxiety, says, “There are studies that suggest that the higher the perfectionism is, the more psychological disorders you’re going to suffer.”
Some studies even found links between perfectionism and physical problems like asthma, migraines, fibromyalgia, and irritable bowel syndrome.
Because of this, perfectionists take more time off work and visit the doctor more than the average person.
In this 2014 study published by
Gordon D. Flett and Paul L. Hewitt suggest that perfectionism is probably a bigger culprit than we all previously thought when it comes to suicide and that seems to make sense.
Think about this!
If my friend could sweep his room 5 times each day because he hates to see single dirt on his carpet, why wouldn’t he think of suicide if he gets a D in Mathematics?
Apart from suicide, perfectionists are more likely to die a natural death than the rest of the world, according to this 2009 study authored by Prem S. Fry and Dominique L. Debats
In the above study, 450 participants were followed for 6.5 years and discovered that the risk of death was significantly greater for participants who score higher in perfectionism and neuroticism, compared to those who score lower.
This study as published in 2010 by Live Science also revealed that Perfectionists have a 51 percent increased risk of death due to high levels of stress.
3 Types Of Perfectionists
Now that I’ve shown you how bad perfectionism is, let’s look at the three types of perfectionists.
First, the perfectionists who never get themselves to do anything.
This group is most likely the largest group among the perfectionists.
They talk, talk and talk.
They have good plans but it’s never good enough.
They want to start a new business or pursue a new goal but, ehm, one or two things are not in order yet,
The reason why most perfectionists never get themselves to do anything they wish to do is because of the fear of failure
Jeff Szymanski, executive director of the Obsessive-Compulsive Foundation, which is based in Boston said, “Perfectionism is a phobia of mistake-making. It is the feeling that ‘If I make a mistake, it will be catastrophic.’ ”
According to Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo, the Author of, Better Than Perfect:
“Perfectionists have an all-or-nothing mindset that’s propelled by a crippling fear of failure”
“I want to start a business, but what if I fail?”
“I want to be in a romantic relationship, but what if someone treat me badly?”
“I want to start a YouTube channel but I’m not good looking for the camera”
Ok, if you want to start a YouTube channel and you think you’re ugly like me, just do this…..
Hide your ugly face and show people some boring stock footage.
Ok, that was a joke.
But let’s face it.
Everyone who ever starts anything in life started it poorly.
Few weeks ago I decided to read this book;
In the book, the author, Duncan Clark writes about how Jack Ma didn’t have a mission statement or a Unique Selling promise when starting Alibaba because he really didn’t know specifically what they were doing.
Yes, he knew that they were building a company.
But how would the whole thing turn out or which specific direction to take the company, they had no idea
On page 24 of the book, I read how Jack Ma doesn’t understand anything about technology or even how the internet works.
On Page 210, I read how they didn’t even have any idea on how to make money from Taobao when they started the company.
If Jack Ma was to be a perfectionist, he would never step out because he would want everything to be in place before starting.
Think about Vera Wang
When, as a young competitive figure skater, she didn’t make the 1968 U.S. Olympic team, she pursued a career in magazine editing.
She worked for Vogue Magazine for 17 years and left in 1987 when she wasn’t given the position of editor-in-chief.
Vera Wang went on to work 2 years as the design director for accessories at Ralph Lauren and at age 40 she resigned her position to become an independent bridal wear designer.
All her life, Vera had been out there, trying things and making mistakes.
Today, Vera Wang is one of the most successful fashion designers in the world haven made wedding gowns for public figures such as Hayley Williams, Ariana Grande, Chelsea Clinton, Karenna Gore, Ivanka Trump and Kim Kardashian.
Now, here is the point; people who succeed in life are those who don’t wait for the perfect time or expect everything to be perfect as they step out.
Stop worrying so much about the fear of failure.
Start something!
And yes, you’ll make mistakes and fail.
But you’ll also learn and become smarter, then you’ll try again and again and again, each time becoming better and better, till you succeed.
The second type of perfectionists
The second group among the perfectionists are those who beat themselves out when the road is difficult.
For example, in one lab experiment, Andrew Hill gave both perfectionists and non-perfectionists specific goals.
What he didn’t tell them was that the test was rigged: none of them would succeed.
Interestingly, both groups kept putting in the same amount of effort.
But one group felt much unhappier about the whole thing – and gave up earlier.
Guess which group?
The Perfectionists.
As Andrew Hill explained, “Faced with failure, perfectionists tend to respond more harshly in terms of emotions. They experience more guilt, more shame. They have quite avoidant coping tendencies when things can’t be perfect. They give up more easily. They also experience more anger.”

The third type of perfectionists

The third group of perfectionists is those who achieved great success.
But these people have their problems too.
Even if they’ve achieved unbelievable success, most perfectionists are never happy.
Let them work for three decades and become a billionaire, they’ll still get mad about little things that don’t matter and if you attempt to talk about their great successes, they’ll rather talk about how much more they’re yet to accomplish.
Think about Winston Churchill.
Even though he was a great leader, a great warrior, and one of the most respected figures of the 20th century, Winston Churchill looked back, at the end of his life and felt that he didn’t achieve anything significant.
Even though the whole world loved Michael Jackson’s music and his records have sold over a billion copies all over the world, Jackson always felt bad, always thinking he wasn’t good enough.
Alexander the Great was a great warrior who never lose a battle.
But he never pause to celebrate his victories because he never saw a reason to be happy until he conquered the whole world.
Whenever he conquered a city, the next thing on Alexander mind was about the next city to conquer.
Like most perfectionists, Alexander the Great died in June 323 BC at age 32, never for once celebrated his accomplishments, never for once rejoice, and never for once thought he had done anything worthwhile
How does that make sense?
How can mortal beings, in a chaotic, unpredictable, and imperfect world expect perfection from themselves?

I’m not a psychologist, a psychiatrist, or anything like that.
I even have no idea how to help a perfectionist
The only thing I can tell you is that the world is like a dirty river and all of us are inside that river.
Any one of us who thinks the other person is smelling is smelling too.
None of us is perfect and none of our creations can ever be.
So, go ahead and start that business.
Start pursuing that dream.
And when you make mistake or fail, don’t take yourself too serious.
Get out and try again.
And when you eventually achieve a little success, com’on, don’t be like Michelangelo or Alexander the Great.
Pause and celebrate your little accomplishments.
Thanks for reading.
If you found this article very interesting, that’s because Lawrence Olamiposi worked hard to research this topic.
My name is Steve Courage and I love you.

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