How to Turn Perfectionism Into a Strength

When faced with the question “what is your greatest weakness”, many people defer to describing themselves as perfectionists, thinking it will give them an easy pass on the question.  They admit their need to always do exceedingly well and their refusal to accept any standard short of perfection as a weakness, but then always subsequently try to spin it as strength.  Truthfully, the perfectionist response is fairly stale and doesn’t actually say anything about you besides “I picked a boiler-plate response to this question.”

The reality is simple: perfectionism is a much larger weakness than strength.  In fact, your perfectionist traits could be holding you back or even unknowingly portraying you as insecure.  We always suggest framing your weaknesses as strengths or as experiences from which you’ve learned during the PA application process, but is it worth it if that weakness does nothing but make you seem weak?

By definition, perfectionism is defined as any disposition or attitude that sees anything but excellence as inferior.  It can be described as fear masquerading as the deep love of being meticulous, a fear of making mistakes or errors, a fear of failure, or even a fear of success. Are you starting to see the common thread here?

Fear is the thread that ties all perfectionists together.  Regardless of the specific details that fear stems from, perfectionists are all rooted in a sense of fear, typically coupled with a large dose of self-doubt or low self-esteem.  While you may be achieving your goals, doing the best work you possibly can, or living your life up to your own standards of superiority, the ends of perfectionism almost never justify the means.  Perfectionists tend to be overly critical and harsh on themselves, and that type of energy doesn’t lend itself well to life as a PA.

A big part of mastering your PA application and interview is to curb all negative self-talk, and perfectionism is really nothing but a constant, nagging, negative inner critic. In order to perform well come interview day, you need to practice being thoughtful in your endeavors.  This means keeping your self judgements in check and making gradual changes towards improvement… NOT perfection!

Take the time to reevaluate your self-values in order to gain back a sense of appreciation for yourself. What do you do well naturally? What characteristics do you like the most about yourself?  Was there ever a time you displayed integrity in times of crisis rather than letting your internal world implode?  What was it about that situation or the way you handled it that allowed you to keep your morale up even though your expectations or standards weren’t met?

By allowing yourself to recall the admirable things you’ve done without framing them with negative self-talk, you’ll remind yourself what a good person and qualified candidate you are. This will, in turn, increase your self-esteem and help you realize that perfectionism is not a strength- having high yet attainable standards with the capacity to forgive yourself and learn from sub-par experiences is.