10 Ways To Escape The Curse Of Perfectionism

At the beginning of a recent workshop I asked the twenty participants to jot down on an index card the thing they are most afraid of. Here is a sampling of their fears:

  • “My greatest fear is to be a failure. I’m scared to start something and not be the best at it.”


  • “I often contemplate the many poor decisions and actions I’ve made in my life. With my negative history omnipresent in my mind I do not consider myself a success. “


  • “I fear failure and I avoid the discussion of failure at all costs.”


  • “My greatest fear is the fear of failure. I have been afraid to fail in many different contexts, such as at school, work and in my personal life. If I didn’t have such a strong fear of failing, I would be more open to learning from my mistakes instead of trying to forget about them, thereby causing me to eventually make the same mistakes again.”


  • “One of my greatest fears is the fear of failure. I have a certain picture of my future, and I deeply want it to become true. If things do not work out as I want them to that means I have to change my plans. And change means that I have to re-think my strategy. That is something I am afraid of.”


  • “I want to achieve my goals and cannot imagine failing. Failing triggers feelings of disappointment, anger, frustration and sadness all at the same time. “


  • “Failure makes me worry that people will lose interest in me.”


  • “My greatest fear is the thought that I can never gain enough achievements to feel satisfied with myself.“


With the passing of each workshop, each coaching session, I’m stunned by how many of us are emotionally strangled by the all-consuming need to be perfect.

What to do?

10 Ways To Escape The Curse Of Perfectionism

  1. Recognize the difference between “striving for excellence” and demanding you be “perfect.” Perfection is rigid and unchanging while Excellence is fluid and adaptable.


  1. Assess what you’ve done right and why. Determine if you can apply those techniques to other areas of your life.


  1. Examine what was a misfire and what you did that made it a misstep. Can you apply this understanding to other areas of your life?


  1. Take responsibility for your less than perfect actions. Do not often whiny excuses. When my bathroom contractor failed the inspection he became defensive and said, “Haven’t you ever made a mistake?” I have and I did – when I did not fire him on the spot!


  1. If there is some skill – interpersonal or technical – you want to improve then come to terms with the fact that you will not gain proficiency without making mistakes. A client told me that when he realized he’d mishandled a crucial conversation with a co-worker, he went back to the person and corrected himself. When he told me that now all is good with their relationship, my immediate response was, “Perfect!”


  1. If someone is willing to love you only if you’re perfect, then most likely they have an unrealistic expectation of what an adult relationship looks like. As poet Sam Keen observed, “We come to love not by finding a perfect person, but by learning to see an imperfect person perfectly.”


  1. Accept compliments. Don’t dismiss them. Don’t say, “Thanks, but I think I could have done a better job.” Compliments highlight what you’re doing right.


  1. Give thanks for what you have accomplished. Recognize it. See it. Own it. Without comparing it to anything or anyone.


  1. Figure out why you want to be perfect at something. Do you want to be perfect for the sake of being perfect OR is it your passion and love that drives you? If you commit to being faithful to the passion and love then that will be an energizing drive to excellence.


  1. Choose a perfect person you personally know and ask that person to share with you their secret to their perfection. And then just do what they do.*


Bonus: If you choose not to do something because you are afraid you will not be able to perfectly accomplish it – then do not play the martyr or victim. You are choosing to live with the consequences. Live with them and get on with your life!


And the irony to this post –

I’ve struggled writing this because I wanted it to be “perfect.”

Doctor, heal thyself!


* Yes, this is a trick suggestion since I’m virtually certain that the person will tell you they are NOT perfect!

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