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5 steps to giving up perfectionism

Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin and Dr. Richard Orbé-Austin

Have you ever felt the need to be perfect? I know I have. The reality is that there is no such thing as perfect. And trying to reach it can have harmful consequences, including burnout. If you want to change your ways but aren’t quite where to start, check out the book excerpt below from Your Unstoppable Greatness by Lisa Orbé-Austin, PhD and Richard Orbé-Austin, PhD (pictured above). It provides valuable steps on the path to giving up perfectionism.

Five steps to giving up perfectionism

Excerpted from Your Unstoppable Greatness by Lisa Orbé-Austin, PhD and Richard Orbé-Austin, PhD. Copyright © 2022 Ulysses Press. Reprinted with permission from Ulysses Press. New York, NY. All rights reserved.

When your impostor syndrome is triggered, it is normal to feel a pull for perfectionism. If we feel we’re not good enough—or a fraud—it’s easy to imagine that trying to be perfect could remedy the situation. But those who have dealt with impostor syndrome know that the perfectionism never remedies the self-doubt. If anything, it makes it worse. So, let’s talk about ways to give it up by taking some key steps.

Step 1:

Acknowledge that perfectionism is not responsible for your success. As noted earlier, no link has been found between perfectionism and better performance. By acknowledging that it is your skills, your experience, and your talents that are responsible for your success, not perfection, it will be less challenging to give it up.

Step 2:

Accept the fact that the perceived benefits of perfectionism do not outweigh its costs. As previously discussed, perfectionism leads to burnout and stress, anxiety and depression, interpersonal consequences, and other mental health effects—none of which is worth the perceived benefits of perfectionism.

Step 3:

Embrace a growth mindset. The fear for many perfectionists is that making a mistake will result in not reaching prescribed goals or being exposed as a fraud or a failure. Even when you’ve conquered impostor syndrome, you may remain convinced that mistakes are unacceptable if you want to succeed in your career advancement. Consider instead embracing a growth mindset—a term coined by the psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck to describe a way of thinking that understands that intelligence is not finite, that people can improve through effort and hard work (not overwork), and that mistakes are in fact opportunities for growth. If you embrace a growth mindset, you can approach learning with less perfectionistic tendencies and with decreased stress.

Step 4:

Strive for greatness, not perfection. Giving up perfection does not mean that you will not continue to be ambitious and motivated to reach your goals. Rather, it calls for changing your mentality so that you are striving to be great or even just “good enough” in your endeavors—without having to be perfect.

Step 5:

Seek support when your perfectionism and impostor syndrome are triggered. As we’ve noted, there may be situations (such as at a new job, or when meeting new people) where your impostor syndrome gets triggered, and you may feel pulled to reactivate your perfectionism.

Perfectionism can drive us to hide from others, but that prevents us from really getting what we need—community. Instead of lapsing back into perfectionism, it will be essential that you reach out to the mentors and colleagues in your Dream Team, requesting support during your current challenges. Note that it’s especially difficult for leaders to admit that their impostor syndrome and perfectionism are being triggered and then to do something proactive about it, but it is imperative that you reach out for help, because your struggles may be affecting more than just you.

Breaking free of burnout practices and giving up perfectionism are key aspects of protecting your dream. Even after defeating impostor syndrome, you may continue to struggle with holding on to unhealthy and dysfunctional habits. By utilizing the strategies in this chapter, you can eliminate such behaviors, increase your overall well-being, and protect the dreams you’ve established on your path to a life free of impostor syndrome.

Read more than the excerpt in Your Unstoppable Greatness by Lisa Orbé-Austin, PhD and Richard Orbé-Austin, PhD.

About Your Unstoppable Greatness

Discover how to overcome fear, build confidence in who you are, and celebrate your accomplishments through the activities and advice in this easy-to-use, guided workbook from the best-selling authors of Own Your Greatness.

Introducing Your Unstoppable Greatness: Break Free from Impostor Syndrome, Cultivate Your Agency, and Achieve Your Ultimate Career Goals by Lisa Orbé-Austin, PhD, and Richard Orbé-Austin, PhD, an interactive workbook utilizing research- and therapy-backed exercises, prompts, and activities to help you identify toxic work cultures; redefine your success; conquer perfectionism; reduce burnout; feel empowered in your agency; construct your dream career; and so much more!

About the Authors

Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin is a licensed psychologist, executive coach, and organizational consultant. Her views about career management and advancement are regularly sought by the media, and she has appeared in various outlets, such as The New York TimesForbesNBC NewsRefinery29, and Insight Into Diversity. She has also been honored by LinkedIn as Top Voice in the areas of Job Search & Careers and Mental Health.

Dr. Richard Orbé-Austin is a licensed psychologist, executive coach, and organizational consultant. He is also a former Chief Diversity Officer and the Founding Director of NYU’s Graduate Student Career Development Center. Dr. Orbé-Austin’s opinions and writings have appeared in ForbesFast CompanyDiversity Executive, and ThriveGlobal, among others.


Top photo courtesy of Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin and Dr. Richard Orbé-Austin

5 thoughts on “5 steps to giving up perfectionism”

  1. This sounds like an informative and inspiring book. Christie. So agree with the points here, that perfectionism is not responsible for success and it’s more important to embrace a growth mindset. Things are always changing and so it’s very hard to keep up and be perfect. Letting go of being perfect opens up many doors and allows us to reach our potentials – let go of stress and obsessive focus to a more open view of yourself and the world :)

  2. Hi Christy, this is an interesting topic. Admittedly, I think perfectionism is something that hounds very ambitious type A personalities. I have on perfectionist son who is highly ambitious and the other isn’t troubled about details at all. I’ve noticed this trend with youngsters in the work place. It’s one or the other.

    1. Hi Robbie, yes, the word “perfect” always makes me stop and pause. It’s interesting what you say about the younger generation and perfectionism. It really is a time unlike any other that we’re living in.

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