From Scientific American:
David Liu is a technology entrepreneur in San Francisco. He has helped found several start-ups to market products he has developed, including those stylus pens the UPS driver hands you to sign for your packages. But even as he dreams up new inventions, an ongoing patter in his head objects that they are stupidly obvious. And despite his accomplishments, Liu teeters on a mental precipice: “It feels shameful, like, hey, I’m in my early 30s, I should have had a Yahoo by now—or I should at least have had a company I sold for tons of money.”
Liu is a perfectionist, someone who demands utmost excellence from himself, an expectation that can lead to fear of failure and reflexive self-criticism. Even when he is doing well, Liu has trouble feeling good about himself. “It’s so habitual, the beating-myself-up part,” he says. Perfectionists, research shows, can become easily discouraged by failing to meet impossibly high standards, making them reluctant to take on new challenges or even complete agreed-upon tasks. The insistence on dotting all the i’s can also breed inefficiency, causing delays, work overload and even poor results. Perfectionism can hurt health and relationships, too. It is associated with anorexia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, social anxiety, writer’s block, alcoholism and depression. Such problems may be prevalent: a 2007 study that evaluated more than 1,500 college students revealed that nearly one quarter of them suffered from an unhealthy form of perfectionism.
And yet in recent years, some psychologists have amassed evidence suggesting that perfectionism encompasses positive qualities, including a drive to succeed, an inclination to plan and organize, and a focus on excellence. Why else would people brag about the trait in job interviews?