Perfectly Awful

by Margaret Lukens, New Leaf + Company

Perfectionists are made, not born. So says an article in the April, 2008 issue of Psychology Today by Hara Estroff Marano.

If the word “perfectionism” brings to mind images of Boy Scout virtues such as tidiness, preparation and thrift, think again. Perfectionism is one of the greatest barriers to productivity, contributing to procrastination, rigidity, self-absorption, anxiety, and a host of other counterproductive behaviors.

While the pursuit of excellence invites us to experiment, fail, learn and improve, the pursuit of perfection raises the cost of failure to unbearable heights. The resulting distress overwhelms the joy, spontaneity, and adaptability that are essential to sustained success in school and at work.

Last year I worked with a client whose career was threatened by a tendency to put off important reports and projects. His keen mind could envision creating the equivalent of grand castles while the limits of schedule and budget allowed him to build only, well, a modest (but exquisite!) chateau. He was fearful of beginning any project he knew would not turn out as magnificently as he dreamed it could, so too often the project was never begun at all.

Together we designed some time and project management tools that would let him take on career-advancing projects including making presentations at industry conferences for his work and inventing games for his friends without being tripped up by a need to do it all “perfectly.”

How have you observed the results of perfectionism in your own life? What are your feelings about mistakes, your own and others’? Do you judge yourself when you make a mistake? What do you do to free yourself from perfectionism? I invite you to share your experiences here.


2 comments so far

  1. Debbie on

    Great post! I completely agree with the statement that perfectionists are “made.” And along those same lines, I believe with effort and determination, they can reform-I refer to myself as a “reformed perfectionist.” These days I strive for simplicity. I never realized how much time I used to waste on perfecting things, or worrying that things weren’t perfect. My “turning point” came via a cancer diagnosis-it was a hidden blessing. I wrote about it in more detail at my blog, if you’re interested.

    Thanks for your insights!

  2. New Leaf News on

    Debbie, I sometimes call myself a “recovering perfectionist” — I can’t claim to be fully reformed!

    It’s interesting that you can identify a specific event that changed your view, when events in your life made perfectionism unsustainable. I wonder how many people share your experience of a turning point?

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