35: Perfectionism: Why 100% at Everything Doesn’t Add Up

by Jen Barna MD | Physician Coaching, Podcast, Resilience


“Giving yourself room to breathe, and at the same time that pressure to perform, perform, perform, was alleviated tremendously. So I think it’s just finding those little hacks that make a big, big difference.” -Coach Gabriella Dennery MD


It’s understandable that you strive for perfection in your work life, but is it spilling over into your personal life too?


In today’s episode, Coaches Gabriella and Jill sit down to discuss perfectionism. You’ll hear why perfectionism can be so harmful, and different ways to combat this trait. 


Let’s just go ahead and say it, perfection is unattainable, and trying to reach it can cause undue stress and anxiety. So let’s give ourselves a break and find the areas of our lives where 50-80% is enough, so that we can have the energy to put in more effort in the areas where lives depend on it. 




Excerpts from the show:


“It’s stressful. The need to get that A+ all the time, get that letter of recommendation, get into a reputable residency program, pass the boards, etc. etc., get more letters of recommendation etc. Depending on your ambition and your aspirations and where you want to go, especially if you’re on an academic track, publishing, researching, etc. etc. It’s a lot of pressure 24/7. And that pressure really starts early. It starts in undergrad when you’re thinking about getting into med school and what you need to get the grades to get through the MCATs etc. etc. So there’s not only that drive but it’s accepted that somehow you have to be perfect and there’s a lot of self judgment that goes around if you don’t quite make the mark in your own estimation. It’s not even in somebody else’s. It’s in your own estimation. After a while it becomes so automatic that it’s something that becomes part of you. 

I was reading an article from a psychologist who was talking about a university student saying that they worked really, really hard to get that A+, and they wanted to get that A+ and they got it. And then at the end, they said, ‘Well if it was really mine to have, I shouldn’t have had to work so hard for it.’  Instead of saying, ‘Yeah I got my A+!’  So that need to be perfect prevents yourself from even celebrating the wins.” -Coach Gabriella Dennery MD



“I think it is so detrimental. Psychological research has shown that this is associated with depression, with suicidal ideations, and anxiety, this chasing chasing chasing. Chasing what exactly? So this becomes a given particularly in physicians. You’re taking care of other people. You don’t want to make mistakes. You want to make sure you get it right because somebody’s life could be at risk. So it’s trying to find that balance to say, ‘You know what, 80% is enough,’ and to get to that conclusion. To get to that ‘80% is good enough,’ that takes some work. Personally, it was years of being able to undo that habit. Of being able to say, ‘No, I don’t have to be perfect, it has to be good.’ Because I’m not the only one involved in that person’s care. I’m not the only one who has ideas and opinions and thoughts about that person’s care. Or about how I even run my own life, because that spills over into personal life as well, (thinking,) ‘Everything has to be done right and I have to take care of everything.’ So to be able to say, ‘No, let me enlist people because I can’t take care of everything. I don’t have all the ideas. Other people have other expertise that I can lean on.’ That was a big lesson for me personally as a physician.” -Coach Gabriella Dennery MD



“I had a beautiful experience of witnessing an insight for a physician several years ago, who was in her 50s and very burned out, and really struggling with that at that point in her career. Feeling like, ‘What have I done all this for? I’m so exhausted, I don’t care like I used to,’ and all the things that show up in burnout. Through our conversations all of a sudden one day her eyes opened really wide and she actually started weeping and she said, ‘This is the first time in my whole life since I can remember, (since) when I was trying to get straight A’s in sixth grade because I wanted to be a doctor someday, that I realized that I can want to do certain aspects of my life at a very high level of achievement, like taking care of the patient, like putting the extra in to make sure that I’m doing everything I can to take care of them. But I don’t need to be at 100% in most other parts of my life.’  She said, ‘I know it sounds crazy but it just didn’t dawn on me.’ It’s like, ok, if I’m giving away all the crap that’s loaded up in my garage, I don’t need to find the perfect place to take every box, or if I need to feed my family, I don’t need to have the perfect mix of macro nutrients. Because she started to realize that level of trying to pressurize herself with perfection in every other aspect was not allowing her to do the great job that she wanted to do in the one place where it mattered most.” -Master Certified Coach, Jill Farmer


“The thing I would say most importantly to everybody listening is, can you get more nuanced? Less of that distorted ‘all or nothing’ thinking. ‘Either I do it at 100 or I don’t do it at all.’ Can you be more nuanced, and really be curious about your own life, and say, what are the areas where you’re throwing in a lot more effort? If 51% is good enough then the amount of time you spend to get up to 100% is incrementally and exponentially a lot higher. How can you play with that?” -Master Certified Coach, Jill Farmer


Get One-on-One Coaching with Coach Gabriella Dennery MD

Get One-on-One Coaching with Master-Certified Coach Jill Farmer


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Podcast produced by: Amanda Taran

Board-certified practicing radiologist, founder and CEO of DocWorking, and host of top ranked DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast

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