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  • Peg Hunt

The Costs of Perfectionism

Updated: Nov 1, 2023


Some consider perfectionism our favorite flaw. It’s easy to believe that perfectionism is what motivates us and is the reason for our success. However, if you really want to be a high achiever, you must take action and are therefore bound to do some things imperfectly. So, perfectionism has a shadow side. It is flavored with self-doubt and the need to constantly prove ourselves which can keep us from acting or slow us down. Additionally, being filled with self-doubt does not set us up to do our best work; it can keep us small and contracted.


According to Thomas Curran, who wrote The Perfection Trap: Embracing the Power of Good Enough (2023), the pitfalls of perfectionism are that we often feel inadequate and may regret the time or effort we exert for diminishing returns. In a podcast on The Hidden Brain episode on escaping perfectionism, they further suggest that perfectionism can thwart success. They describe a conversation with author Margaret Atwood (who has written about one book a year over six decades), about why she has been such a successful and prolific author, she shared that, “If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word”. Sometimes it is better to be done than to be perfect.


While we may see our drive and perfectionism as the source of our success, striving for perfection often robs us of joy and a well-deserved sense of accomplishment because perfection is impossible and elusive. Experts suggest we can let go of our perfectionism without letting go of high standards, ambition, and motivation.

One place to start is to look critically at our rigid thinking—is it true that something is not worth doing if it can’t be done perfectly? For example, suppose you have a report due tomorrow and you’re about 80% complete and your child is sick. Instead of giving in to the need to be perfect at all costs, challenge yourself to get clear about the bigger picture: Ask yourself, what is most important here—for your child? For the report? What is the impact you want to make on your family and at work? These kinds of questions will help you focus your time and attention. You may still need to work on that critical voice that believes you must be perfect to be worthy. It might help to consider if the report is good enough or good enough for now. Will submitting a perfect or less than perfect report really make or break your career? Is there a way to get help or extend your deadline?


Instead of assuming that your standard of perfection is what is required, widen your perspective to consider what is actually good enough to meet the needs of the situation. If you struggle to think it through on your own, you can also seek a reality check with a colleague or friend. Another approach is to set interim goals or milestones on the way to a larger goal, helping to get moving instead of being frozen by perfectionism. This also provides opportunities to recognize progress and celebrate successes.


As two recovering perfectionists ourselves, our approach to the blog is that one of us writes a quick draft and then we quickly send it to the other person, knowing that it is much easier to edit than create. Sometimes we still struggle with the fear of judgment, but we can move forward with our fear, knowing that our experience has shown it is better to collaborate earlier than later. The blog gets better faster when we are both working on it.


So many of us struggle with perfectionism and it does not help us do our best work or live our best lives. We hope this blog provided some useful tips for how to move forward. If you find that perfectionism is getting in the way of making progress or experiencing joy in the journey, coaching can be helpful. Please contact me if you would like to discuss this further at info@peghuntcoaching.com and we can set up a complimentary session.


If you like this blog, please like or repost—we appreciate the support!


© Peg Hunt, MS & Anne Garing, PhD

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