The Perfectionist’s Handbook: A book review by Bob Morris

The Perfectionist’s HandbookTake Risks, Invite Criticism, and Make the Most of Your Mistakes
Jeff  Szymanski
John Wiley & Sons  (2011)

A brilliant analysis of the differences between healthy and unhealthy perfectionism

I agree with Jeff Szymanski that perfection is best viewed as an on-going process rather than as an ultimate destination. As he observes, perfectionism “isn’t necessarily a bad thing to be eliminated altogether. Quite the opposite is true, in fact; your perfectionism might be one of your most valuable attributes and the source of your success and self-esteem.” He divides the material into two Parts. In the first, he explains what perfectionism is (definition, types, characteristics, benefits and perils, etc.); in the second, he explains how to maximize the benefits of healthy perfectionism. Although his approach is clinical, based on an abundance of real-world experience, he immediately establishes a direct and personal rapport with his reader that he skillfully sustains throughout the narrative.

For example, in Chapter 2, he helps his reader to formulate a “perfectionist profile” (measurement of Unhealthy to Healthy range on a seven point scale) that provides a clearer sense of personal strengths and weaknesses when it comes to perfectionism. “This exercise will also help you consider which of the following chapters are relevant to you in terms of understanding what your strengths are and where you might consider making changes.” With all due respect to Szymanski, I presume to suggest that all of the chapters be read.

One of his key points is that developing healthy perfectionism depends on two factors: achieving wide and deep self-awareness, and, being not only willing and able but also determined to make whatever changes may be necessary to eliminate (or at least reduce) unhealthy attitudes and behavior. As I worked my way through the book, I recognized all manner of correlations between efforts to develop healthy perfectionism in an individual and in an organization. At both levels, the key to progress is continuous improvement.  For example, there are some areas of opportunity on which Szymanski focuses, identified as goals:

o  Eliminating mistakes and flaws
o  Elevating personal standards
o  Meeting expectations
o  Everything and everyone exactly where they should be
o  Ideals and “just right” (i.e. perfect) experiences
o  Absolutes (e.g. knowledge, certainty, and safety)
o  Being “the best” and “best of the best”

Obviously, these are eminently worthy goals and, over time, some form of perfection may be experienced or achieved. However, to repeat, perfection is best viewed as an on-going process rather than as an ultimate destination. Szymanski is not perfect, nor is this book or anyone who reads it. I add to the previous list of goals two others: Read and then (preferably) re-read this book with an open mind, receptive to careful consideration of the information, insights, and counsel that Jeff Szymanski provides; then complete various diagnostics included within the book and be proactive when responding to what they reveal.

For additional perspectives and insights, I also recommend Dov Seidman’s How: Why How We Do Anything Means Everything  and Tal Ben-Shahar’s The Pursuit of Perfect: How to Stop Chasing Perfection and Start Living a Richer, Happier Life.

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