The majority of graduate students have high standards and expectations regarding the quality of their work, but they may or may not describe themselves as “perfectionists." The presence of high standards often provides some of the motivation necessary for graduate students to excel academically. Many graduate students have ambitious professional goals, they structure their work in ways that allow them to accomplish these goals, and there is generally a high degree of job satisfaction whenever they have met these goals.
There are situations where high standards and expectations have a more negative impact on how someone feels about themselves and the work. These individuals tend to establish ambitious goals that are difficult to achieve and then evaluate their work unfavorably because they were unable to meet their standards. They may also be more likely to compare themselves to others in ways that intensify negative feelings about their work. The literature often refers to both types of individuals as “perfectionists” but makes the distinction between more positive, or “adaptive,” forms of perfectionism and a much more negative version of perfectionism that impedes work and affects self-confidence.
The negative type of perfectionism may impact work in several ways:
- It can increase the amount of time necessary to complete a task because the expectations are not attainable.
- There is little or no progress because the task is avoided as a way of coping with negative feelings about the quality of the work.
- The work is not shared with others due to shame which prevents feedback.
It is important to be aware that perfectionism can have a positive or negative impact on your work depending on how you respond to it. It may be helpful to ask yourself the following questions as a way of assessing how perfectionism has been affecting your work:
- Do I have unrealistic or unattainable standards for my work?
- Do I feel satisfied when others have evaluated my work in positive ways?
- Do I avoid my work because it feels impossible to meet my standards?
- Do I think of my work in ways that are highly critical?