Perfectionism: Striving to Be Perfect in an Imperfect World

Striving for excellence motivates you, striving for perfection is demoralizing. – Harriet Braiker

There’s nothing wrong with having high standards. Striving to meet challenging goals we set for ourselves generally demonstrates strength of character and a good work ethic. That’s why striving for excellence is typically viewed as a positive trait. But, when striving for excellence becomes debilitating, as it does for many, the effects can be anything but positive.

What is Perfect?

• Perfect is complete and without defects or blemishes

• Perfect is unattainable

• Perfect is the enemy of the good – Voltaire

The idea of being perfect may be seductive but it simply doesn’t exist in the human experience. Anything that appears to be perfect is an illusion. Perfection has been studied, written about and romanticized for thousands of years, but it still exists only as an abstraction in our minds.

Advertising – The Scourge of The Modern World

Advertising is not a modern invention, but ads are getting cleverer and more personal than ever. Ads are everywhere, and they are tireless. They follow us around online and sometimes even call us by name. They are designed to attract our attention and prey upon our insecurities, and to part us from our money.

No one is an island. What we read, what we watch, and what we listen to, has some effect on how we think and feel and who we socialize with. Ads work to link popularity with perfection and constantly remind us that our value as human beings should be measured by no less than perfect performance, perfect teeth, perfect hair, and perfect bodies.

What’s a Perfectionist?

Perfectionists confuse excellence with perfection. Excellence is achievable. Perfection is unachievable. Perfectionism is a personality trait characterized by habitually striving for flawlessness against impossibly high performance standards.

It’s normal and healthy to want to achieve, to excel in what your passions tell you are important. It’s unhealthy to continually pursue the Impossible Dream. It can cause stress, feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, depression and other related health issues. Perfectionists tend to:

Fear failure and rejection: making mistakes (not meeting their standards) means failure and disappointment in the eyes of others.

Fear success: If they are successful, others will expect them to keep performing at the same high level.

Have low self-esteem: Lacking faith in their abilities, their misguided behavior is really an attempt to avoid failure and gain approval from others.

Focus on appearances: They obsess about what others think and the need to be, or appear to be perfect.

See most things as all or nothing: Every challenge is viewed as either good or bad (perfect or imperfect). There is no in-between. They rigidly believe nothing they do is worthwhile, unless it’s perfect.

Procrastinate: Overwhelmed by impossibly high standards they become paralyzed and can’t get started until they know it can be done flawlessly.

Suffer: Plagued by stress and feelings of inadequacy, they never feel satisfied or fulfilled.

What’s a High Achiever?

Simply put, High Achievers strive for excellence and choose to move from thought to action. High Achievers tend to:

Set realistic standards: Objectives and criteria that are high but still achievable.

Accept imperfection: Recognize their results will never be perfect and that’s okay.

Focus on the process: Completing each step brings satisfaction and builds self-confidence as they move closer to the finish line.

Accept that mistakes are to be expected: Learning from them is a natural part of life, and a key component to success.

Continue to Persist: Having failed before and survived, they are not disabled by anxiety and fear of failing.

Know the value of high achievement: Having fought the battle to the end, they have learned the importance of study, practice, and execution.

Managing Perfectionism

Excellence can’t happen when perfectionism stands in the way. We all struggle in our battle against being perfect. It’s a powerful enemy—but one that can be defeated.

If you feel some traits of perfectionism are causing you distress, know that it’s possible to learn healthier attitudes about your goals and standards. For more information, read Don’t Try to be Perfect – Try Doing Your Best Instead!

Wishing you the best always,

Dr. Dale Simpson (The Every Day Psychologist)

Dale Simpson, PhD, is the father of five children. As a practicing psychologist for more than 37 years, he has counseled children, teens, adults and couples and currently practices in Venice, Florida. Dr. Simpson was a cofounder and publisher of an educational magazine, wrote the Inside the Family column for the magazine, served as a featured speaker at numerous parenting and homeschool conferences, and is the publisher of Learning for Life Press.