For a whole host of reasons, so many of us buy into the unspoken norms about the kind of behavioural patterns that attract sustainable, long-term success. It can be so ingrained into us, in fact, that we hardly notice or question them.
This, however, is precisely why it’s crucial to question our assumptions.
“Every man for himself,” they say–but is receiving more than you give really the best way to achieve lasting success at work and in life? What are the caveats, if any? Is perfectionism a praiseworthy trait that quickens the pace of one’s journey towards success, or does it only cripple it?
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It often seems that the corporate world was built on the presumption that the best way to achieve success is to undermine others’ success and make yourself seem impervious. To give away any semblance of weakness is to let others see how they can best exploit you.
This belief is what creates so much resistance against practicing empathy and providing psychological safety at work. Ironically, research shows that both of these are indispensable to high performance in workplace settings. Additionally, empathy and psychological safety have one thing in common: both require more giving than taking.
Dale Carnegie put this into perspective when he said, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”
According to Wharton psychologist Adam Grant, “takers”–those who receive more than they give–tend to congregate in the middle rungs of the success ladder. They may temporarily succeed, until those whom they took advantage of catch up to replace them. Conversely, “givers”–those who give more than they receive–are overrepresented in the bottom and top-most rungs of the success ladder.
Successful givers, as it turns out, know that it’s okay to receive and know how to protect themselves from being taken advantage of. In contrast, unsuccessful givers often suffer from burnout.
In other words, to achieve sustainable long-term success, you need to give more than you receive, while knowing how to protect yourself from being manipulated.
It’s a popular notion that the perfectionists among us are the ones who stand the best chances of attaining success. Because of the standards that they hold themselves and the others around them, they’re often assumed to be boons for high performance both as individuals and in team contexts.
Perfectionism isn’t always good news. While it is true that perfectionists tend to be over-achievers, it’s also true that at times, they can feel captive to their own need for success.
In fact, a common cognitive distortion that perfectionists often engage in is all-or-nothing thinking. They think, “If I can’t do it well, I won’t do it at all.” It justifies procrastination, plays on fears of failure, and cripples adaptability. On top of potentially sabotaging themselves in this way, perfectionists are also statistically likelier to develop mental health issues related to anxiety and depression.
It’s not the quest for perfection that’s in and of itself the problem. According to Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, there are two types of perfectionists; those who seek perfection to avoid negative judgment from others, and those who seek it to unlock greater heights for themselves.
The latter is a healthier way of seeking perfection; these are the people for whom growth is their highest priority. They set high standards for themselves but aren’t afraid to depend on others for help. They don’t fear failing, either, and they welcome change since they see it as an opportunity for learning.