The pros and cons of perfectionism

By | 2022-05-06T15:51:21-04:00 February 20th, 2014|1 Comment

In my professional nursing experience, I’ve encountered many a nurse (myself included) who approach life with a perfectionist mindset. It makes perfect sense. From nursing school and beyond, it takes determination and drive to make it in the fast-paced, high stakes world of healthcare. In that sense, a dose of perfectionism can be a great asset. It’s what makes us good nurses.

But on the flip side, perfectionism can cause us undue strain and heartache. There are pros and cons to being a perfectionist.

Pros of Perfectionism

Fuels Your Desire to Take on Challenges

Striving to be better keeps us moving forward. It’s what propels us to master a new medical device, go back to school or pursue an exciting new area of nursing.

Sets High Professional Standards

Nurses who set the bar high inspire the nurses around them to do the same. They elevate the profession as a whole and help change the public perception of nursing.

Keeps Patients Safe

Double and triple checking that insulin dose, re-assessing patients as minute changes occur, and giving 110% effort in any task or clinical decision means that your patients are receiving the best possible care you can give.

Makes You a Great Coworker

You pick up that extra shift because staffing is low. You leave your patient assignment in great shape for the oncoming nurse. You go the extra mile to assist others in your workplace. All of these things make the days that much easier for your nursing colleagues.

Cons of Perfectionism

Sets Unattainable Expectations

Perfectionists tend to have unreasonable expectations of themselves. Sometimes you set the bar too high, making reaching those expectations near impossible. Find a way to lower the bar a little. Of course, not when it comes to patient safety or job duties, but maybe you don’t get to something that can be left for the next shift. That’s OK!

Causes Undue Self-Retribution For Perceived Failures

Tied in with setting unattainable expectations, perfectionists tend to rebuke themselves strongly for not reaching such high standards at all times. What non-perfectionists might perceive as a normal life stumble, perfectionists may deem a catastrophe. Lowering your own bar can help you develop a stronger sense of self-compassion.

Creates Barrier to Relaxation

Because nothing is ever good enough, perfectionists aren’t the best at taking advantage of downtime. There’s always something to do, something to fix and you never feel quite finished. After you’ve practiced lowering the bar, try a new homework assignment: Relaxing. Do something that has no purpose other than the enjoyment you get out of it. A crossword puzzle? Reading a book? Journaling? Try a few things out until you find an activity that clicks.

Causes You to Overextend Yourself

Perfectionists tend to take on too much at the expense of their own needs. When you say yes to everyone else all the time, what you’re really saying is no to yourself. How can you possibly recharge your battery if you find yourself helping others every moment of every day? Start practicing saying no in small ways, without apology. You might find that you’re able to give more to the things you do say yes to.


Are you a perfectionist? How has it helped you succeed? How has it held you back?


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One Comment

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    Kevin Levites April 26, 2022 at 5:09 pm - Reply

    I second the toxicity of perfectionism in healthcare . . . and I’ll go a step further: there are times and occasions when perfectionism can kill patients, as there is a difference between perfection and excellence.

    I’m a paramedic in nursing school, and the hospital has a policy that people can’t translate a different language with the interpreter service or a certified interpreter.

    Well . . . the system was down from a lightning strike, and an LPN refused to interpret because she had to follow hospital policy perfectly, and when asked to interpret (she was the only resource available because of the lightning strike) quoted the policy and procedure manual which says “generally, there are no exceptions” to the interpreter policy.

    She wasn’t going to break the rules, and if the patient suffered . . well . . . the situation wasn’t her fault, and the phrase “I was following orders” is not an excuse to break the rules and do the wrong thing.

    So, she wouldn’t translate, and the patient did, indeed, suffer a misdiagnosis and almost died.

    But she’s happy because she did everything perfect.

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