Know Your Audience: My Ordeal of Writing About Perfectionism

I call myself a recovering perfectionist. Over time, I’ve learned its strengths, such as it propels me to produce quality work. I’ve also learned its weaknesses, such as a tendency to procrastinate or, even worse, to do nothing. I tap into its strengths and guard against its weaknesses. With this knowledge, I moved from being a perfectionist to being a recovering perfectionist.

I once wrote a facetious article about this for Connections Magazine. It was playful, lighthearted, but with a practical twist. I advised readers who were likewise equipped in how they could tap into their inner perfection for greater results, while at the same time suppressing its negative aspects. I also discussed when to, and when not to, hire a perfectionist.

I received many positive comments for my article, both for its subtle humor and its practical insights.

A few years later I reprised the piece for AnswerStat magazine, expecting a similar reaction. I was wrong. AnswerStat readers have a background in healthcare, some of them extensive, such as doctors and clinicians, not to mention nurses with more letters following their name than in their name itself.

These folks reacted with great concern for my disorder. Some advised I seek professional help, others expressed sincere concern, and one suggested an intervention was in order – even offering to help. But one woman perplexed me more than all the rest. Her former husband, like me, was a perfectionist—surely a contributing factor in their divorce—but we also shared a Dutch surname. She theorized perfectionism was a Dutch defect and presumed my marriage was likewise in jeopardy. She even wondered about doing a clinical study on the link between Dutch blood and perfectionism. Geez.

In the hundreds of articles I’ve written, this article received more feedback than any other, none of which was encouraging.

The article was a good one (as evidenced the first time it ran), but this time I had the wrong audience. Though I knew my readers, I forgot to consider them when I republished the piece.

Knowing our audience is the first step; remembering who they are is the second.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

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