Tag Archives: Perfectionist

Confessions of a Recovering Perfectionist – Top 10 Reasons to Chill Out

Not That PerfectionistIt was the end of a typical weekday at my house: a moving and shaking day at the office, home for some giggles and play with my young daughters, dinner, baths and bed. Finally, I get some time to myself – hooray! Out of the corner of my eye, I spot a massive pile of clean laundry that has been waiting to be put away for a whole week now. Momentarily, I consider putting it away, but … naah! Instead, I decide to grab my laptop, prop my feet up and work on some writing. I giggled to myself realizing that previously in my life I would have never been able to do that. That tiny bit of clutter would have gnawed away at me, making me super-uneasy and totally unable to relax in-the-moment.

You see, I am a recovering perfectionist. And, boy, I had it bad! Aside from my obsession with cleanliness and everything in its place, I would usually have multiple projects going on at any given point in time, agonizing over every detail, which, of course, needed to be executed juuuust right. Upon completion I would say in one long breath, “Woo-hoo, that was great, finally did it, okay, what’s next?” I used to pour over blog posts editing and re-editing them in the quest for perfect arrangement of the exact right words until they were finally worthy to be released (maybe). I used to work out 6 or 7 days a week and it would take an act of God for me to actually skip a workout!

For years, I would brush my neurosis off as, “I am just built that way. It’s in my DNA.” And, to some extent, this is true. I have a lot of passion and energy eager to pour out. But, what is different these days is my self-talk around this energy. The story I tell myself. I am enough, already. I still have high ambition and put tremendous amounts of love in what I do, but I give myself a break. I have loosened my grasp on expected outcomes and value peace and harmony waaaay more than flawlessness.

So, what was the wake-up call that helped me make the switch from high-strung to mellowed-out? These are the top 10 realizations that I made about perfectionism that helped me along in my journey to become easy like Sunday morning:

  1. “Perfect” is an illusion. It’s striving for the impossible. Even if this high-level of excellence can be met in a particular moment, don’t blink because it is a fleeting ideal. Perfection has an insatiable appetite, and the constant expectation of it sets you up for a whole lot of disappointment, stress, and unhappiness. All the while, the fun of life whizzes right by.

  2. Perfectionism stifles creativity and blocks the birth of fresh ideas. Sometimes we just need to throw the paint on the canvas, allow the notes to be strummed, or let the words pour out. When you mix intense worry into the equation, self-confidence erodes and the artistic flow becomes suppressed. Is everything just right? How it will be perceived by others? This type of thinking takes us out of alignment with our creative source and smothers the flames of imagination into submission.

  3. The ever-present quest for perfection is merely a shield from vulnerability. When we do everything perfectly, then we cannot be judged or criticized. It’s an excuse not to be vulnerable. Just as staying busy in the process of constantly trying to achieve the unachievable is a good way to avoid having to look at and deal with our “stuff.” (And we all have “stuff”). Unfortunately, the only way to heal is to deal (as in facing things head on). The shielding of perfectionism is merely a coping mechanism, which works temporarily, but meanwhile, whatever we’re suppressing only continues to gain more power over us.

  4. Vulnerability shielding inhibits connection. For me, I realized that if I really wanted to be a great writer, coach, mother, and friend who really connects with others then I’d have no other choice but to let down my shield and allow my authentic self to be fully exposed. This means being perfectly imperfect at times, owning it, and granting others permission to do the same.

  5. There is a big difference between striving for excellence and perfectionism. It’s called actually enjoying what you are doing! It’s okay (great, even) to have high aspirations. Shoot for the stars. Go nuts! But, go easy on yourself along the way. Enjoy the journey. Don’t get so tripped up in the outcome that it sucks every ounce of joy out of the process

  6. Perfection is to life what those plastic covers are too a really nice sofa.  Sure, it keeps the dirt off, but what’s the point?? The guitar whose notes are strum slightly off at times is better than the untouched guitar collecting dust on the wall. The laughed in, played in, loved in, house is better than the spotlessly clean one where you can eat off the kitchen floor. The published, yet slightly imperfect, blog or book that allows somebody else to have an “a-ha” moment or inspiration is way better than the “almost perfect” one that is still hiding away, never to be experienced by another soul. Don’t miss the point of life in pursuit of way-too-high standards.

  7. Self-worth is not determined by any outward measurement. This goes for any number on a scale, how clean the house is, how many feathers are in our cap, etc. It’s what’s on the inside that matters most. And, it starts with loving self-talk, not the “I’m not good enough’s” associated with striving for perfect.

  8. It’s even scarier. Yes, it can be scary sharing your passion with the world (whatever the medium). But, what’s even scarier is not sharing your passion with the world because you felt it didn’t meet your own ridiculously high standards. The reality is that nobody’s opinion of your work is going to be quite as critical as your own, anyway. And, even if it is. So what? It’s just somebody else’s opinion. Be passionate, create, love, share — this is living!

  9. Because what perfectionism really is: Throwing an amazing party and forgetting to have a good time because you are worried about some silly little details that nobody else even noticed or actually cares about! (Yes, I might have actually done this before *whistles*).

  10. Perfectionist parents create perfectionist kids. And, I want my girls to grow up knowing unconditional self-love, acceptance of what it is, and enjoyment of life. ‘Nuff said.

Perfectionism is a way of closing off and controlling things. It may look pretty on the outside but in reality it’s cold, isolated and dark. It’s the cracks that let the light in, anyway. So, go on and ease up a bit. Let some light in and shine on!

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Are You A Perfectionist? How To Be Happy

Alice D. Domar, Ph.D., with Alice Lesch Kelly

Break free!

Ready to liberate yourself from perfectionism? Here are the strategies that will work for any woman who wants to go from type A to carefree.

1. Retrain your brain. Pay close attention to any thoughts that contain words such as must, should, always and have to; these are signposts on the road to perfectionist thinking. Put each thought to the test. Is it really true? Is there another way to look at the situation?

2. Nip perfectionist thoughts at the root. When you’re stressing out about a problem, take a few moments to find its origin. Let’s say you’re tense because your sister is coming to town. Why are you so worried about impressing your sister? Maybe because you’ve always felt that she thinks she’s better than you. There is the root of your perfectionism. Now challenge the root thought. Often you’ll find it’s not actually true.

3. Say "Thank you." Perfectionists often train their brain on the negative. You can counteract this tendency by practicing a ritual called news and goods. Each evening, take a few moments to think about what new or good things happened during the day. This habit focuses your attention on what you do have and did do rather than what you don’t have and didn’t do.

4. Set realistic goals. This is especially important for body perfectionists, who strive for infinite self-control and discipline. Try the 80/20 eating plan: If 80 percent of what you eat is nutritious, you can afford to be slightly less careful about the other 20 percent. The same is true in other areas of your life. Suss out which tasks require intense effort and which let you coast a little.

5. Practice self-forgiveness. When you’re being particularly hard on yourself, imagine what you would do if a friend called and told you that she made the same mistake you made. Then allow yourself the same respect. Think about who you’re talking to: someone you care for deeply, someone who’s trying her best. Stop, breathe, reflect and choose to be as gentle with yourself as you would be with your friend.  

6. Prioritize your to do list. Draw clear lines between what you have to do and what you want to do. Some are have-to jobs, others are want-to tasks. Once you’ve split your to do list in two, take a closer look at the want tos. Are these tasks truly important? Will anybody besides you notice if they aren’t done?  

Take our quiz to determine the areas in which your perfectionism may be holding you back, then discover four more ways to break free from perfectionism!

PHOTO (cc): Flickr / M needs a doctor


Why ‘Good Enough’ Never Is

Last week’s post focused on impeccability as a possible key to integrity. Raising the question of impeccability coupled with having quoted a reader who found inspiration from Carlos Castaneda on the subject seemed to inspire many while riling the sensibilities of others.

Some took inspiration from the aspirational focus of living to a higher standard, while others trashed the idea as impossible (given the implied notion of impeccable as perfect). Fortunately, this turns out to be another one of those cases where "you’re both right." Kind of. 

Kind of like one of my favorite quotes from Mark: "All generalizations are false, including this one."


Indeed, perfection is unlikely to be achieved on this planet, and yet striving for impeccability just might be worth the effort. As Dylene wrote to me in an email following last week’s article:

Several things came up for me around this great blog, and will most likely continue to do so. Impeccability is a goal for me in my work and my life. While I can’t pretend I always attain it, the standard is a good one for me personally.

  • Commitment to deadlines: This has created a more healthy dynamic in my life–in working hard to under-promise and over deliver, I am conscious of the commitments I make nowadays–it wasn’t always true. It helps me keep my work impeccable.


  • In the example in your blog of the appointment and searching for a reason to cancel: the times I have done this, it’s because I agreed to something that didn’t engage my passion. I’m a little more selective now about where I choose to spend my life, and that has increased the quality of my contribution to the places I do attend now. It makes it easier to be impeccable.


You can agree or disagree with Dylene and her approach. You can dismiss her approach to impeccability for any number of reasons. However, if you’re Dylene, you have made a choice (striving for impeccability) that has enriched your life, and, most likely, the lives of those with whom you interact.

If you keep playing with this for a bit, you may wind up at a collision point in your thinking: on the one hand, pursuing perfection can lead to perfection paralysis. If the goal is perfection, there will always be one more iteration, one more improvement, one more change that will help move things along. However, moving things along is motion, not perfection.

On the other hand, if you abandon the pursuit of perfection, you may then wind up settling for "good enough." What’s good enough? Is there a standard by which "good enough" could be determined? One person’s good enough could well be another person’s abject failure.

There is a classic story of Debbie Fields, founder of Mrs. Fields Cookies, who early on found herself on a visit to one of the first stores in her chain. Apparently, she was fond of saying something to the effect that you should set your standards so high that even your flaws are considered excellent.

On a surprise visit to the store in question, she came upon a long line of customers waiting for her freshly baked cookies. However, she also noticed the cookies that were coming out of the ovens were overcooked by her standards.

When she asked the manager to taste them before serving, he replied that they were "good enough." Legend has it that having more than a little pride in her products and her name, she replied "Good enough never is."

Debbie apparently took the whole batch and tossed them in the trash and told him to start over. She then went to each of the customers in line, explaining what she had done and why. She let them know that she wanted them to enjoy perfect cookies and offered them free product when it came back up.

Of course, Debbie Fields was acutely aware of the phenomenon, "you-never-get a-second-chance-to-make-a-first-impression" and just how competitive the industry already was. She did not want to risk her brand image with product she considered inferior.

And so "Good enough never is" became the watch word for Mrs. Fields Cookies. Eventually, this lead to a series of standards about cookies including how long they could sit on shelves before being declared "cookie orphans" and donated to local charities…


Photo: CC Flickr//scubadive67

Why Are You So Hard On Yourself?

 The results of last week’s quiz showed that just about everyone has a case of Perfectionitis. Fellow Huffington Post blogger, Dr. Cara Barker did a 10 year study on this challenge. Her work entitled, World Weary Woman: Her Wound and Transformation came to the same conclusion. Here is what we found: There are not a lot of people who are living in healthy self-acceptance. The culture just doesn’t support it.

The Bra and Pantyhose Problem

If you are a working woman, you are likely to have the added pressure of managing both work and home life. If you are an entrepreneur, you are trying to do everything. If you are a woman working in a corporate environment you may have to work harder than the men to prove yourself. Sorry guys this is an ailment that is more prevalent in women. Basically, if you own a bra and have ever worn pantyhose, my money is on the table that you have a touch of the old Perfectionitis bug.

Our society, founded on the Protestant work ethic, seems to think the Impossible Workload is just peachy keen and even necessary for success. People get more strokes for achievement than for being happy, so they willingly take on what is in fact a toxic work schedule. Magazines are full of stories of uber women who cook as well as Martha Stewart, are as slim as Kate Moss, run an empire like Oprah, and claim to have a dreamy marriage, all on three hours of sleep a night.

Pop quiz: Is it better to be successful or happy?

News journals sing the praises of executives who hardly rest like they’re a new, improved breed of capitalist warrior, above and beyond the mere mortal who needs a daily eight hours of shut-eye and eight glasses of water. "Extreme Jobs (and the People Who Love Them). 80-Hour Weeks? Endless Travel? High Stress? Bring It On!" was the cover caption on an edition of Fast Company magazine. Next to the article was a cartoon of a woman holding a cell phone: "I Have No Life . . . and I Love It!" Boy, she sure needs an anti Perfectionitis prescription!

Lydia’s Story

More and more companies are demanding insane work loads as a norm. A member of an audience of women executives drove the point home dramatically. Lydia is a slim, vibrant brunette with bright eyes. A partner in a large law firm, she was about to retire. "In the late 70s and early 80s the hours I put in made me look like one of the hardest-working people in the firm. If I worked those same hours as a young lawyer who had just joined the firm today, I would be fired as a slacker." Her voice lowered as she continued. "My daughter is a young attorney who is trying to become a partner at a law office in New York City. She works such long hours that the stores are closed by the time she goes home. Sometimes she just doesn’t have the time to go buy toilet paper, so she steals some to take home from the firm’s supply."

Etiology: How the Heck Does It Happen?

Two things come together to bring on a bout of Perfectionitis: a culture that values high performance above everything else, and a person with low self-esteem who has assimilated those values and is motivated to try to live up to them. When somewhere inside you believe you are unworthy, inadequate, or incompetent, it’s easy to start living from the outside in. You do things to get approval from others–the culture, your boss, family, teacher, colleagues, or children–instead of doing what is a healthy choice for you.

As a kid it is easy to equate being good with being loved. Your good manners get applauded. The bad ones are punished. As time goes on, your value as a person may seem to be based on how you perform. In some families there is even the message that if you don’t excel at school, sports, or socially, you are a big failure. Behavior, then, appears to be a magic wand. It has the power to get you more love. How intoxicating! It casts its spell time and time again.

If you were like me growing up, you thought, "Boy, I want to be loved all of the time, but I can’t be good all of the time. I can only be good some of the time. If I can’t be good all the time, I must be bad inside. That means I have to work extra hard to do things really, really, really well."

Like so many other women, you become a champion self-nitpicker. You chide yourself about your weight, your career, your woefully single status. *

Bottom Line:

Self-criticism is a convoluted defense mechanism: "If I am hard on myself, then other people won’t have to be."

Pop Quiz Answer: Happy= Successful

* Excerpted from Funky to Fabulous: Surefire Success Stories for The Savvy, Sassy

and Swamped
 (Oak Grove Press) with permission.

You can receive notice of my blogs by checking Become a Fan at the top. Ask Eli a question atinfo@elidavidson.com or go to www.elidavidson.com today.

Eli Davidson is a nationally recognized motivational speaker and executive coach. Her book, Funky to Fabulous: Surefire Success Stories for the Savvy, Sassy and Swamped, (Oak Grove Publishing) has won three national book awards. Eli is a reinvention catalyst, who can transform your professional and personal life from Funky to Fabulous with her 10 trademarked Turnaround Techniques that create rapid and remarkable results. Check out her blog athttp://funkytofabulous.blogspot.com/


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