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Give Up Perfectionism

Give up Perfectionism. No way, you say! Everything must be just so, the best, perfect. After all, it’s probably served you well in the past, and perfect has its place. Besides, what will happen if it’s not perfect?

This is something some of my clients wrestle with. And, I’m going to come clean and include myself there. Actually I never really thought I was squarely in that boat, or at least that it wasn’t that obvious to others. This past Sunday after church, I had a conversation with our priest, and she said to me, “You need to give up having to be perfect.” Whoa! Back to working on imperfect!

Truth be told, I had already realized this about myself and thought I’d been making progress to move from this. And, I have. I know where my perfectionism comes from and when it crops up. I know what needs to be perfect and what doesn’t, though I do struggle with it on occasion. Perfectionism has its good points. It can also become a dead end. Here are some things it can lead to:
1. Procrastination and/or indecision. If you need everything to be perfect, you wait for the best solution or the right time. You don’t want to miss it, so you wait and wait.

2. Missing the big picture because you are focusing on the details. It’s like missing the forest for all the trees.

3. Loss of creativity. I think this one is tied into procrastination, because you want perfect results so you put it off. You don’t have “failed creative efforts.” And, of course if you did, they could lead to growth. (Ironically, growth is one of the reasons people want to be perfect.)

4. Perfectionism in the extreme can lead to depression and alienation of relationships.

So how do you work on becoming a recovering perfectionist? Here are some tips to try:

1. Be aware of why you are a perfectionist and recognize when it rears its head. Know whether it’s good perfectionism or obsessive perfectionism. I think that’s often half the battle.

2. Ask yourself, “What will happen if it’s not perfect?” or even, “What will happen if I don’t have to do it perfectly?”

3. Aim for good enough. I have two signs in my office. One says “Good enough is good enough.” The other says, “Progress, not perfection.” It’s not license to slack off, it’s license to finish.

4. Look at the big picture, i.e., look at the forest not the trees. Prioritize to figure out if all the trees, aka tasks, are necessary to fill in the big picture. If not, get rid of that tree.

5. Learn how to delegate. Once you do this and begin to have faith in other people’s abilities, it becomes easier to delegate. You don’t have to do it all to be perfect. And, it may not be perfect to your way of thinking, but it will be done.

6. Just once, set a goal to do something poorly. What a concept! This is really freeing. Imagine being perfectly imperfect!

7. Celebrate. My clients know I like to have a weekly Success and Strategies Summit. If you’ve managed to let go of some of your perfectionist tendencies, celebrate it as a success.

I love quotes and searched for the perfect (!) quote on perfectionism. In the end, I decided to share the words from one of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott, from her book Bird by Bird:

Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism,
while messes are the artist’s true friend.

Are you a perfectionist or a recovering perfectionist? Please share your thoughts below.

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5 Responses to “Give Up Perfectionism”

  1. Katie said:

    Boy do I ever identify with this struggle! I’ve been a quilter for over 30 years. While I can piece some very difficult quilt tops, I haven’t “conquered” machine quilting yet. Right now I have a quilt top just waiting to be machine quilted (I’m a hand quilter, but this top has too many seams and busy fabrics to be hand quilted). It’s languishing on the shelf because I don’t want to goof up my pretty-good quilt top with some pretty-awful machine quiting. I know I need to get out of my own way and that I’ll learn from failure (“failing forward”, as it were). Probably would help if my heart weren’t set on using Sliver metallic thread for my first go at machine quilting. (!)

  2. Marcie said:

    Oh dear… after reading your article I have just realized why there are so many projects I have wanted to do but have never started them because I knew deep down that I could never do the project good enough. I was sure my fabric choices or designs would not work. So I keep buying fabrics and procrastinating hoping that soon I would be satisfied enough to start.
    Thank you so much for this article! It has opened my eyes so I can see the imperfection in trying to do something perfect.

  3. Elsie Campbell said:

    I have a saying in my sewing studio: “Perfectionism is self-abuse of the highest kind.” When I teach, I noticed that when I stressed perfection, by the end of the day both I and my students all had lines across our foreheads and we were feeling quite worn out. In others where perfection was less of an issue, we ended the days with smiling faces and feelings of accomplishment. I’ve learned to relax my standards: after all, I don’t have to live with what others have done in my workshops. It is their quilt top to take home with them, and we learn best by making mistakes, don’t we? Plus, happy mistakes sometimes happen and become some of our highest achievements! Just my 2-cents worth.

  4. GourmetQuilter said:

    I have been accused of being a perfectionist! Can’t see it myself, I just like it done right!! Having said that, I do set myself fairly high standards but at the same time have learnt that actually getting something done is an achievement in itself, the quality is another issue. I have a saying up in my studio that says “that’s just the way it is!” and I find myself applying this to many things that could have been a bit different! I don’t expect others to share my personal standards and can appreciate the effort others (students) have put in, I have been doing what i do for a long time and had to learn myself. I start more projects than I can manage in the time I have, but somehow they get done, at least the important ones do. Often allowing myself to start something I want to do, enables me to satisfy that need and then finish the project I should have been doing in the first place!

  5. Robin Kinley said:

    Wow. What is so ironic about this is that my house is a mess and I often feel depressed and stressed because it isn’t clean because I don’t have the time to “do it right”! I’ve spent so much time ripping out perfectly good quilting on customer’s quilts that wasn’t “perfect” and therefore lost a lot of time (aka money) doing that.

    Having said that, I like the results I get when something is done right, it’s just finding that balance. I am coining a new term “reasoned perfection”. This gives me the feeling that it’s going to get done right, but allows me to relax if it isn’t TOTALLY perfect.

    The Amish have a saying “Only God is perfect”. In fact they put “humility” blocks in their quilts to illustrate that. We can all learn from that.


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