Financial Advisor Fails: The Pitfalls of Perfectionism

Financial Advisor Fails: The Pitfalls of PerfectionismEd Note: This article is part of an ongoing series focused on the mistakes made by financial advisors.

Perfectionism is a trait many of us cop to coyly, maybe even a little proudly. However, perfectionism can be devastatingly destructive, leading to crippling anxiety or depression, and an overlooked risk factor for suicide.


Experts now know that perfectionists are made and not born, commonly at an early age. According to Thomas S. Greenspon, a psychologist and author of a paper on an “antidote to perfectionism” published in Psychology in the Schools, there is a distinction between perfectionism and the pursuit of excellence. “Perfectionism is more than pushing yourself to achieve a goal; it is a reflection of an inner self-mired in anxiety. Perfectionists typically believe that they can never be good enough, that mistakes are signs of personal flaws, and that the only route to acceptance as a person is to be perfect,” he said.


Many financial advisors have impossible-to-meet perfectionist standards that set them up for failure. Research confirms that the most successful people in any given field are less likely to be perfectionists, because the anxiety from making mistakes gets in your way.


Financial advisors need to be flexible and ready to adapt to new products, services and changing markets. Rigid thinking does not serve them well, and that’s what the pursuit of perfectionism produces in the mind. It can be a long and lonely road toward an unobtainable goal. The pursuit of perfection can cause alienation among co-workers and be disruptive to professional relationships and it is a self-defeating frame of mind.


“We tend to see the Martha Stewarts, Steve Jobs and Tracy Flicks of the world as high-functioning, high-achieving people, even if they are a little intense,” said author Gordon Flett, a psychologist at York University who has spent decades researching the potentially damaging psychological impact of perfectionism. “Other than the people who have greatly suffered from perfectionism or the perfectionism of a loved one, the average person has very little understanding or awareness of how destructive perfectionism can be. However, for many perfectionists, the ‘together’ image is just an emotionally draining mask and underneath they feel like imposters.”


Moreover, that facade is prone to collapse and lead to a number of problems, including self-harm. Striving for perfection can also be a huge waste of time. It paralyzes people and makes them unable to act. It makes them overthink the simple things and sweat the small stuff. It keeps them from achieving goals out of an overwhelming sense of fear.


Successful financial advisors need to continuously engage in learning. They need to expand their knowledge and expertise on a regular basis. By focusing on the areas they feel they can excel at, perfectionists miss other opportunities. This prevents them from providing the best products and services to their clients. Without knowing it, it holds them back and makes them a hostage to their fears of failing.


The biggest failure is not in being imperfect, rather it is being hyper-focused on success and missing out on achieving goals that are in plain view sight. The desire to seek excellence in the financial advising field is a noble goal, so long as it does not lead to a futile pursuit of perfection.


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