How Perfectionism is Standing in the Way of Your Second Act Dream Career

Are you allowing perfectionism to steal your dreams of pursuing a new career? 

If you are a high achiever, you may also have perfectionist tendencies lurking in the background. Left unchecked, perfectionism can lead to lost opportunities, robbing you of the happiness and success you want in your career and life. 

High achievers are ambitious, goal-focused, self-disciplined individuals, who are driven by a strong personal desire to accomplish meaningful, important goals.

Generally, I consider myself in the high achiever camp. However, when I started my career change journey (in my mid-40s), my perfectionist tendencies showed up in full force.

For years, I knew I wanted to do something different with my career, but I didn’t know what “it” was. I was successful at my job, but I always dreamed about having a career I truly loved. 

When I first started my career change journey, I made the common mistake of trying to figure out all of the “hows”. This approach was not helpful and it left me feeling overwhelmed and defeated, before I even started. 

My fears of failing and worries of the unknown swirled around in my head kept me stuck and not moving forward. I thought, “What if I fail?”,  “What if I don’t have what it takes?”, “I’m not qualified.”, “I don’t have enough experience, training, talent, etc.”, “It’s too late.”, “It’s never going to happen, so why bother trying.”

As a result, I didn’t make much progress with my career change goals, which only left me feeling worse and more frustrated.

My Breakthrough

I knew I had to shift my mindset if I was going to make my dream career a reality. I had a CHOICE. I could let my fears keep me trapped or I could start taking small imperfect steps, learn from my mistakes, and see what happens next. 

Once I let go of the need to “get it right”, I was able to stop overthinking every decision and start confidently moving toward my future vision. As a result, I felt happier more productive, and satisfied.  

It’s completely normal to feel worried or overwhelmed when embarking on a career change, especially after 40. If you find yourself continually procrastinating on something important to you, perfectionism could be keeping you from pursuing your dream career and a life you truly love.

Do you have a high achiever or perfectionist mindset?

Brené Brown writes in her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, “Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfection is not about healthy achievement and growth. Perfectionism is not self-improvement or striving for excellence. Perfectionism is, at its core, about trying to earn approval and acceptance.”

While both perfectionists and high achievers may have similarities, there are key differences in their mindsets and actions.

High Achievers

  • Strive to do their best and improve their performance
  • Understand that mistakes and failures are part of the growth process
  • Set challenging but achievable goals
  • See successes and failures as progress, not a destination 
  • Find meaning and happiness in creating, learning, and feeling challenged
  • Bounce back from setbacks; tenacity to overcome their challenges
  • View feedback as a learning opportunity
  • Enjoy the journey as much as the achievement or outcome 


  • Driven by fear of failure or rejection
  • Set unrealistic goals or avoid setting goals (increases stress, frustration, and exhaustion)
  • Avoid taking action or risks; leads to procrastination and missed opportunities
  • Focus solely on the results or outcome
  • Beat themselves up for minor mistakes and failures–view mistakes as failures
  • Have an all-or-nothing perspective–I either succeed or I fail
  • Critical of themselves and others
  • Avoid seeking feedback; don’t accept constructive criticism well (viewed as a personal attack)
  • Find it difficult to enjoy the journey and small wins along the way

Don’t be discouraged if you see some perfectionist traits in yourself. We all have perfectionist traits to some degree. The key is to recognize how these tendencies might be holding you back. When you are more aware of how perfectionism is showing up for you, then you can work towards taking a healthier approach that will still allow you to achieve your goals with less stress and anxiety.

Where is perfectionism showing up in your career change? 

Are you avoiding doing things that make you uncomfortable or doing everything possible to avoid failure? Are you delaying your dreams by waiting for the “perfect” time to change careers or start your own business? Are you telling yourself, I’ll start when…the kids are in high school/college, when I retire, when I have more money, time, and energy? Are you telling yourself, “I’ll be happy when…”?

The “right” time doesn’t exist. The right time is when you start taking steps toward what you want in your work and life so you can make your dreams come true and do more of what matters most to you. 

You have a CHOICE. You can stay stuck or you can start moving forward. Stop worrying and overthinking every small detail and decision. You have everything you need to take the next step that moves you closer to finding your next exciting career chapter. Just take the first step forward and see where it leads you.

Be sure to read next week’s article to learn how to stop perfectionism in its tracks.

Want more help to successfully pivot to a rewarding second-act career?

CLICK HERE for your free guide: 5 Strategies to a Rewarding Second Act Career. 

Gena Anderson, CPC, SPHR, ELI-MP, is a Certified Career and Leadership Coach. After two decades in Human Resources Technology, Gena revolutionized her career and life by becoming a certified career and leadership coach. She earned her professional coaching certification from iPEC (Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching), a nationally-renowned coaching school.

Gena’s mission is to help high-achieving women over 40 connect to their purpose and confidently pivot to a more rewarding and satisfying second-act career they love.


#professionalwomen, #careerpivot, #careercoaching, #dreamjob, #womenleaders #jobsearch #midcareer

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