How to Stop Being a Perfectionist

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Annabel Candy from Get In the Hot Spot.

“Use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those that sang best.” Henry van Dyke

I once read a job interview tip that recommended if asked what your biggest flaw is, say you’re a perfectionist. The theory was that the interviewer would be delighted at the prospect of all that hard work in your quest for perfection and hire you.

This idea appealed to me at the time and although I never got to use the line I would have if anyone has asked me the question. But today I’ve changed my mind. I’ve been self employed for 12 years so I don’t go to interviews but if I was looking for someone to hire for a job I’d steer clear of anyone who said they were a perfectionist.

I’m a recovering perfectionist because being a perfectionist’s no fun and being friends with a perfectionist or working with one’s not much fun either. The University of Texas even classes being a perfectionist as a mental health problem and a major cause of stress in The “Vicious” Cycle of Perfectionism.

So perfectionism is the enemy. It’s not something you should aspire to or boast about and if you are suffering from perfectionism I hope you’ll be able to recover from it. Here’s why you should avoid being perfect or aiming to create perfection in anything you do:

  1. It makes people unhappy since it’s impossible to achieve perfection or be perfect.
  2. It causes procrastination because striving for the unattainable makes it hard to get started.
  3. It creates self criticism and low self esteem because perfectionists are never happy with what they’ve done.

I have a friend who’s a brilliant illustrator. She’s not rich or famous but I think she would be if she wasn’t a perfectionist. Once her art got featured on the front page of a popular magazine. They asked her to make it a regular gig but she couldn’t do it because she’s pathologically incapable of meeting deadlines. Really. She was too busy making minute adjustments to her work that 99% of people who looked at it wouldn’t even see.

The magazine cover got her a lot of attention elsewhere too and she had people clamoring for her illustrations, but the fear of creating an imperfect picture stopped her from creating anything at all and the opportunities slipped by.

Sadly, perfectionists can’t delegate, meet deadlines, handle criticism or see the big picture. They’re scared of criticism and failure but the only way you can avoid those is by being ruled by those fears and not doing anything. And that’s when you really fail.

Failure is a normal part of growing and improving yourself or your work which includes learning how to handle criticism. As Jonathan Mead says in 10 ways to make time for the important:

“You have to make mistakes in order to grow, don’t let perfectionism paralyze you. If you’re not failing, chances are you’re not trying hard enough.”

How to Stop Being a Perfectionist

First embrace imperfection. It’s totally normal and nothing to be ashamed of! Take pride in finishing things, getting them out there and learning from the process and feedback so you can get better next time. Make a deadline and finish the job. Now move on to something else.

Now understand that being a perfectionist kills creativity and productivity. Keep your standards high but be realistic. Settle for as good as can be in the time available. If people like what you’ve done or you’re still interested you can always come back and improve on it another time.

Finally accept that perfection doesn’t exist. You’ll be happier and more productive for it.

Imperfection rules

People love us for our flaws because they’re what make us interesting and unique. Flaws are what makes a handmade work of art more valuable than a factory made replica.

So if someone asks you about your flaws tell them about your irritable bowel syndrome, mention your extreme political views or share your strange sexual fetishes. Almost anything has to be better than being a perfectionist.

About the author: Annabel Candy writes about self improvement and Internet marketing for SMEs. You can read her blog at or subscribe to the free RSS Feed to stay tuned.

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