The harmful perfectionism – Welcome to Burnout-Island

Reading through the posts, articles and social media posts from the past year, 2022 seems like a never-ending cycle of anxiety, exhaustion and crisis.

Here, however, I am not talking about the terrible war that has the world on tenterhooks or the pandemic that is still preoccupying us with all its consequences.

I’m talking about a kind of addiction that (from my Eurocentric perspective) has held the Western world in particular hostage for decades – The pursuit of perfection or, to name it correctly: The illusion of perfectionism.

Hardworking, beautiful, successful – When am I perfect?

I must confess that I was almost swept along by the wave of self-optimization, while I observed in myself with increasing concern an ever new level of work addiction, beauty mania and consumerism.

If I have understood this correctly, you should:

  1. Looking good, whatever that may mean
  2. Be an optimal parent, which you can prove in countless hosting of children’s birthday parties, barbecues as well as being a member of the parent committee
  3. At certain ages, have reached certain consumption levels (car, house, garden, travel, etc.)
  4. Identify 100% with your employer’s corporate vision, which is naturally reflected in metrics, high performance/flexibility, and an unmistakable “commitment”
  5. As an entrepreneur: Sacrifice your soul to your entrepreneurial idea, anything else shows that you are not 100% behind your vision/idea.
  6. Complete points 1-5 with a smile so that others can also strive for the ease with which you complete your life tasks “perfectly” because you have found your “Purpose”.

Well, our company is not called “UnternehmerRebellen” for nothing and so I would like to go against the trends and advocate functional perfectionism. This means forgetting the above points or deliberately breaking with the expectations behind them.

Of course, perfectionism per se is not bad. I’m glad that the surgeon at the clinic doesn’t think, “Oh, it’s probably nothing bad,” or that the plumber simply leaves out a seal in the hope that it will hold. The pursuit of diligence or advancement is fundamentally a positive condition for growth, development and satisfaction.

However, I reject the self-damaging, so-called dysfunctional perfectionism, which is not for nothing considered an essential transdiagnostic factor in the field of possible clinical pictures, such as bulimia, depression or anxiety disorders.

We now know from countless studies that dysfunctional perfectionism can also have physical consequences, such as sleep disorders, cardiovascular disease, elevated blood pressure, etc. Regardless of this, perfectionism is also an absolute productivity and creativity killer in most cases. Those who lose themselves in being perfect overlook the opportunities that arise from mistakes, “wrong” decisions or moments of “failure”, namely: Strengthening resilience, problem-solving skills and innovative thinking due to constantly changing framework conditions.

How to leave Burnout-Island

To get out of the perfectionist cycle, which can end in overwork, increased demand for performance, and even burnout, I’ve brought you a few ideas that you can try for yourself:

  1. First self-diagnosis: If you cannot or do not want to have a psychopathological assessment by a professional, you can first answer the question: What does “perfectionism” mean to me and are there moments in my life when it manifests itself?

Examples of how (harmful) perfectionism can manifest itself:

  • Body: You force yourself to exercise even though you don’t really feel like it. The focus here is not on your health and well-being, but on the fear of being negatively evaluated and thus no longer conforming to the social image.
  • Work: You diligently accumulate overtime at work because you feel that the project has not yet been perfectly worked on or completed by you. You read emails more often in this case and adjust them, but not out of care, but because you are afraid of the reaction of the person reading them.
  • Social life: You invite other people over more often, go out regularly in the evening, or talk extensively on the phone with an acquaintance, not because you are seeking social and social closeness, but to be considered a good friend, partner, sister, daughter, etc., and to show that you have a good and desirable social life.
  1. Set and maintain boundaries: Don’t go beyond your limits. For one week, try cutting out all the activities that don’t bring you joy.

Examples of how you can keep boundaries:

  • Performance: don’t book a new course, don’t finish reading the chapter of the disliked (but recommended by everyone) book, don’t get behind the stove but get cooked or order something for once.
  • Me Time: Turn off your cell phone and text other people that you will be unavailable for a certain amount of time. No mandatory meetings, no posting, no consumption – just do what you feel like doing: go for a walk, make something or get creative in some other way. Give your mind the opportunity to switch from optimization mode to creative mode.
  • Family: Of course, it’s a little more challenging here, because kids are quite good at lovingly (and with a little yelling) tearing down any temporal “boundary walls” we put up. You may find support here to give you some free time or (if you prefer), you may find a creative way to collectively have positive experiences.
  1. Become perfection-free: See positive possibilities in things you can’t control.

Examples of how you can establish perfection-free behavior:

  • Profession: What is good about the customer being dissatisfied with the current result? Does this perhaps give you the opportunity to revisit a topic or demonstrate your organizational skills? What could be the benefit of the presenter not being able to attend the event due to illness? Do you now have the opportunity to discover the stage for yourself and to appear with your person? We are sometimes so preoccupied by our quest for perfect (work) processes that we overlook the opportunities that lie in the things that don’t work out the way we had previously planned.
  • Private: Who is not tired of being the perfect partner, lover, friend, sister, mother, daughter, etc.? The same is true for all genders and all people, and yet almost every day we subject ourselves to this competition that we know we can’t win. I would like to invite you to consciously not want to win this contest. How about dedicating time to each role instead of doing them all at once? If you feel like spending more time with your siblings or parents today, dedicate yourself specifically to this task. If it is rather your ambition to invest more energy in your partnership or professionally, take time for this consciously. It’s not about keeping all the balls in the air at the same time, instead it’s much more relaxing to dedicate yourself to one roll at a time, knowing full well that there’s nothing to gain or lose here. And sometimes…you just put down all the roles, close your eyes and devote yourself to the most important person in your life – yourself.
  • Body: If you don’t conform to the common ideal of beauty, it’s time to change the supposed ideal. This is not about advocating lack of exercise or unhealthy eating, but seeing the opportunities to break out of the status quo. What could YOU make an imperfect trend? Do you particularly like your hair color? Is your body shape ideal for wearing great dresses, beautiful shoes or hats? Do you like your hands, shoulders or ankles? Again, we focus far too much on the “optimization” areas on our body and forget that our feet carry us through our entire life, our heart beats 60-80 times per minute, and our skin, as the largest organ, protects us from all external influences (injuries, sun exposure, cold, etc.). We should replace optimization with gratitude and also see possibilities here and not mere “construction sites”.

The world keeps turning, even if you’re not perfect.

The interesting thing is that as an entrepreneur and Female Empowerment Coach, I would argue that our experience is 70% what not to do, 10% what we should definitely do, and another 20%, surprise moments that happen to lead to success or learning moments.

  • So why do we strive for perfection in the first place?
  • What does failure actually mean in this context?
  • What would happen if we didn’t want to start a family, didn’t want to buy a house, didn’t chase after every new product, and were just happy with the way things are?

Correct: Nothing! The world would continue to turn, because we forget that we are one human being out of (by now) eight billion and that our self-perception can mostly differ greatly from the perception of others.

How nice it would be, then, if we could just stop chasing after an illusory ideal that we didn’t even create ourselves. Our lives don’t fit into the same social mold – it’s called diversity, self-determination and the power to make your own choices.

This is the only way to leave the burnout island that wants to chain us to ideals of beauty, striving for performance, and optimized concepts of life, thereby shaping us into empty, completely overworked, and overtired shells.


I would be interested in your opinion on my thoughts. How do you perceive the issue of “perfectionism”? Does it concern you personally, professionally, entrepreneurially and have you perhaps found a good solution for yourself that you would like to share with others?

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