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Throughout the world, perfectionism is a personal quality that has been both idealized and denigrated in equal measure. Films such as “Amadeus” (1984) and “Shine” (1996) were both hugely successful meditations on the relationship between perfectionism and the accomplishments of genius, but both films had less than happy endings for their purist anti-heroes in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and the institutionalized pianist David Helfgott. Here are just a few of the rewards and the costs of perfectionistic thinking, and how perfectionism can often have a stunningly harmful effect on a person’s well-being.

Benefits of Perfectionism

While it is true that the term perfectionism has taken on negative connotations in recent years, it is also clear that a perfectionistic mindset can have its benefits; look to the accomplishments of any great leader in business, the arts, or politics, after all, and you will probably see some degree of perfectionism at work. A notorious perfectionist, Steve Jobs was viewed as a tyrant by many Apple employees in the 1980s for a managerial style that pushed workers to their absolute psychological and creative limits. More recently, the extremely detailed fantasy worlds of self-described perfectionist George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire book series led to a hugely successful adaptation in the HBO television hit “Game of Thrones.” Without the personal initiative to become the best in their respective fields, it is possible that we would have never heard of either Steve Jobs or George R.R. Martin.

Walking a Fine Line

Unfortunately, the qualities that made Jobs into a great entrepreneur and Martin into a great writer also caused the two men to experience some of their biggest setbacks. Never one to heed the advice of others, Jobs died in 2011 after rejecting medical treatment for a curable form of cancer, while Martin has kept his dedicated fanbase waiting the better part of a decade for the sixth book in the Song of Ice and Fire series, leading some readers to speculate that we will never actually see the entire heptalogy completed. Perfectionism might have helped Jobs revolutionize the computer industry and allowed Martin to become a writer of genius, but it also caused much of the work of both men to go unfinished.