On Being Perfect

Jan 16, 2019 by

On Being Perfect

As a psychotherapist, I have noticed, in the last several years, more and more instances of people who claim to be perfectionists.  I think the reasons for this are complex, but include the fact that Americans are very competitive with one another, and also because there is intense pressure to conform while at the same time we value, as a society, individuality and free expression.  Another reason people become perfectionistic is because they have a hyper-critical parent or a harsh inner critic.

Perfectionists devote a lot of mental energy and head space to being perfect and are often critical of themselves.  This, of course, leads to depression, anxiety and chronic stress.

Perfectionists, and even non-perfectionists have a fear of failing.  Failing is not good, right?  There are many who believe that failing leads to insight and inner strength.  There are a multitude of examples of people who have failed but persevered, including Nicolai Tesla, Albert Einstein and Bill Gates.  Failing causes us to find value in our experience beyond that of simply having succeeded at a task or goal.  It teaches us acceptance, self-compassion and empathy for others.  These are valuable resources in this high tech, high stress world.  Failing can help one gain equanimity, wisdom, grace and understanding.  These too, are valuable resources.  You don’t necessarily cultivate these qualities by succeeding, especially if you have wasted valuable time on trying to make something perfect.

There is a rule called the 80/20 rule (I prefer 90/10) and it says that we expend X amount of energy to achieve 80% (4:1 return rate) and X amount of energy to achieve 100% 1:1 return rate).  The returns for the same amount of energy are significantly less in achieving perfection so one might call that wasted energy.

“Perfectly imperfect” is a phrase that is now becoming more and more popular.  There’s something comforting about not having to be perfect.



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