Coping with Perfectionism

16 May

perfectionismDoes perfectionism plague your life, or those close to you?  I’m curious because I’ve contracted to write a book about perfectionism and am looking for juicy information.  In my life it could take the form of waiting before conditions are perfect before starting a new project.  Hmmm, that means never.  It could mean not wanting to go out because my hair or my clothes don’t look right.  Who even notices?  It could mean finishing a whole bag of chips or Oreos, just to get them out of my sight and done with.  Or getting lots of college degrees with straight A’s.  Hmmm.

Could you send me a comment about perfectionism?  —whatever you observe or suspect in yourself, your mate, co-workers, family members.  Light or serious. Anything is OK.  Everything will be anonymous.  Promise.  I’m just looking for a lot of across the board tidbits to help me spice up this new book, which will be out late fall this year.  I’m expecting to learn a lot with this project.  Yay! and thanks for your help.


Posted by on May 16, 2012 in Uncategorized


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31 responses to “Coping with Perfectionism

  1. Peter Dawson

    May 17, 2012 at 5:47 am

    Ahh perfectionism. I procrastinated commenting until I could leave the perfect gem about such a subject. Since it’s not coming to me I’ll say that it mostly shows up in my life as procrastination. I learned l
    years ago about the 3 P’s. Perfectionism leads to Procrastination which in turn leads to Paralysis.
    It’s basically all or nothing thinking. And it pervades my life in almost every area from finances to disorganization to being late with projects to just plain giving up in dispair because I can’t live up to my own impossible expectations which were probably thrusted on to me in childhood.
    I heard someone in a support group say it has helped to intentionally do something imperfect and try to feel ok about it. So that’s my next plan of attack. to intentionally do something mediocre and see if I survive!

    • Jeanine Colini

      May 25, 2012 at 5:39 pm

      “Surviving Mediocrity” sounds like a great book title! Makes me smile.

  2. Ellen Bowers

    May 17, 2012 at 6:07 am

    Right on, Peter! I love the idea of doing something mediocre. Ellen

  3. Dan garcia-Black

    May 18, 2012 at 1:08 am

    My imperfect memory has been attributing the quote, “Nothing perfect breathes” to Ruben Dario or Antonio Porchia. Therein lies my excuse for not quoting the correct author perfectly. I continue to breathe. I am not perfect. I will be perfect when I die. There’s too much to accomplish, albeit, in my own sloppy way before then. Oh look my clock is running two minutes fast. So what?

    • Ellen Bowers

      May 18, 2012 at 2:50 am

      What a great relaxed attitude you have! Thanks, Dan.

  4. Eriall

    May 18, 2012 at 4:44 am

    Oh Ellen, this is the perfect question for me. It used to rule my life. Hence my getting kicked out of the Int’l Baccaloreate(sp?) ;P program in high school and failing so many classes in college that I basically dropped out just to move on with life. 😛 I failed many of those courses because I was unwilling to cheat, & most of all unwilling to turn in imperfect assignments, which I thought was all I could do most of the time because I was so dreadfully imperfect, to say the least about what I thought of myself then. My perfectionism was very much linked to my self-worth. So I didn’t finish a lot of things and missed some great opportunities because I clung so hard to my perfectionism, & it rewarded me with massive creative constipation & regrets. It also made orgasms impossible since I was too busy judging and worried about how I looked naked, how I smelled & what language I would scream out in to drive him crazy instead of just enjoying myself. A perfectionist is one of the loneliest people in the world. It feels so good to be off that ego-trip. 🙂

    • Ellen Bowers

      May 18, 2012 at 5:22 am

      Eriall, I always enjoy your insights! Thanks so much for your comments. Ellen

  5. Amber

    May 18, 2012 at 6:23 am

    I struggle with perfectionism daily. Perfectionism and procrastination go hand in hand for me. I’m such a perfectionist that often times I don’t even begin a project because I know it won’t be perfect every step of the way. I really love when I give myself permission to make mistakes; even to fall flat on my face! I see the ways I avoid learning new things because it means I will have to be a novice to begin with, but I try my best to push through my fears. Some days are better than others. I remember killing myself to get straight A’s in college, and then not one potential employer ever asking my GPA. So unnecessary! I’m also becoming aware of my strategies to keep people at a safe distance because I’m afraid of letting them see what goes on ‘behind my curtain’. I can be quite messy at times! Of course this is where my humanness lies, as is true with all people. Today I’m trying to accept all parts of myself – – the good, the bad, and the ugly, and love myself in spite of my ‘humanness’. I love the reminder that I’m human and that making mistakes is part of the process and that is never going to change. My only hope is that I’ll continue to make new mistakes, instead of making the same ones over and over.

  6. Breanne

    May 18, 2012 at 11:49 am

    Perfectionism to me is as many folks already said, black and white thinking, all or nothing. In recent years I’ve started to see a lot of the grey in between. My house will never be “perfectly” clean, but what can I do today that will make me happy? Maybe sweep the floor or clean off a counter. Is anyone going to notice that spot in the corner? No, so I can stop obsessing about it. Overcoming perfectionism is accepting where we are at in the here and now. It’s made me a lot more of a relaxed person and I’m not so caught up in what everyone else is thinking of me.

  7. Ellen Bowers

    May 18, 2012 at 12:02 pm

    Thank you! I appreciate what you’ve said about looking for the grey instead of black and white, and not thinking of what other people are thinking about oneself. Excellent!

  8. Ingrid

    May 19, 2012 at 6:07 am

    Ellen, hooray for youn that you are tackling such a personal subject.

  9. Orchid

    May 22, 2012 at 9:22 am

    I have two quotes about this, one from Leonard Cohen, “Everything is broken; that’s how the light gets in,” and “I am free to write (paint, dance, design, compose…) the worst junk in LA (insert your town here),” from Julia Cameron.
    I often get excited about a project, imagining how wonderful it will be, and get stuck there, since my project will never live up to the vision in my imagination. And in my imagination, the project is already done. No muss, no fuss. Deadlines were the way I handled this in the past. Sometimes I arrange deadlines with my clients in order to get the project done. While effective, this strategy does not bring me peace, nor does it honor my creativity..
    I think our culture’s emphasis on originality over craft makes my perfectionism worse. Every project needs to be groundbreaking in order to be good. Good solid work is not good enough.
    These days I can sometimes be gentle with myself, taking tiny steps, picking up the project and giving it some thought, even if I only have a few minutes for this. It also helps me to have a lot of small creative projects around, so I can see my creativity in action.

    • Ellen Bowers

      May 22, 2012 at 11:44 am

      I love this, Orchid! Thank you so much for your thoughtful ideas. I really appreciate it! Ellen

    • Jeanine Colini

      May 25, 2012 at 5:42 pm

      “Good solid work” gets my vote. It’s the unsung hero of the workforce. Without it, our original ideas would not see the light of day.

  10. Julia

    May 22, 2012 at 11:33 am

    OK. I’m finally ready to think about perfectionism. Almost ready:-) Perfectionism is about control and control is overrated. Perfectionism requires absolute focus on something to the exclusion of everything else, including people, nature, and in general, awareness. Dare I say that perfectionism cuts oneself off from the world? How could that be perfect?

  11. BM

    May 23, 2012 at 12:12 pm

    I can’t say I am a perfectionist, Ellen. I try to do my best. But, I worked many years in a very high tech factory. I actually became an unofficial error analyst in our work. It wasn’t just a case of finding the error, but a case of knowing where to look based on my knowledge of human behavior which tends to produce predictable errors.

    I may have been a perfectionist in my younger years, but I learned over the years that excessively worrying about making small errors was pretty much a waste of time. Better learn how to spot errors already made and fix them ASAP. It is virtually impossible to eliminate all errors. Only a very small percentage of humans can consistently do 100% error-free work without a learning curve.

    On new projects, I would take an assembly back to the assembler and show any errors made. When a new project started there would be many errors. Over a few weeks, the error rate would drop and eventually we had nearly zero errors. But, this was using feedback for existing errors as a learning tool, rather than simply not making any mistakes at all.

    My company supplied electronics for the Apollo flights in the 60’s, and they had a zero defects policy. One thing they did was learn that even to count parts accurately, they must be counted a number of times. I think it was five times, but that is a long time ago so I don’t remember.

    Also, they would make an electronic board, and inspect it a number of times until they were fairly sure it was correct. Then, they used a device called a visual comparator. It had mirrors, and rapidly switching lights so you could see first one board then the other, very fast. If you put in the good board, and a new one, the switching lights would show up any difference as a blinking component. Even resistors with different color codes, which would mean an incorrect value of resistor, would stand out.

    Of course, after visual inspection, they would then test it electrically as well.

    I realize this is a very imperfect posting. I am trying to say perfection is nearly impossible for the vast majority of humans. If you need perfection you must design a system as Apollo folks did, which locates and corrects errors, rather than stressing out trying to not ever make a mistake. Spell checkers are a poor example, — e.g. their; there; and they’re are all valid words so a spell checker cannot find errors caused by using the wrong word. But, this is an example of doing something first, then having a mechanism to look for errors.

  12. Anonymous

    May 24, 2012 at 6:19 pm

    I think that to do an excellent job is something lost among common culture today. I value doing my very best, but, this is a double edged sword. Doing my best seems to alienate others. What in my crazy thinking happens is: “If I’m less-than-perfect, I will be abused; If I’m (seemingly) perfect, I will be ostracized”. It is horrible either way. The only real solace I get is that I know I did my best (yet I end up being lonely anyways).

  13. Jeanine Colini

    May 25, 2012 at 5:33 pm

    I seem to struggle with perfectionism in some areas of my life, and then not in some others. Things that are work related seem to be most subject to my bouts of perfectionism. The higher the perceived prestige level from a creative venture, the more likely perfectionism will creep in. Worse yet, perfectionism’s partner in its crime is procrastination. Together, these two “Terrible P’s” can wreak havoc in the finest creative inspiration, thwarting progress and the realization of our dreams…if we let it. I have recently been fighting the Terrible P’s and, am happy to say, I am winning a good many of our battles.

    An area where perfectionism tends not to get the better of me is in my much enjoyed, recreational pursuit of music. I seem to have my abilities and goals in good order in this area of my life. I always strive to do my very best, to show up prepared, to do better than I did a month ago–and I find I succeed most of the time. Perfectionism doesn’t enter in because I don’t believe it is attainable and am quite happy to accept my place of accomplishment as a serious amateur who has limited training and boundless desire and energy. My motivation to share music, as a performer and mentor, is bigger than my need for being perfect. And what a blessing that is!

  14. PushDumpFatButton

    May 26, 2012 at 10:46 pm

    Reblogged this on Push Dump Fat Button.

  15. Peter

    May 27, 2012 at 3:10 am


    Remember, you’re on tight schedule to complete this book on perfectionism.
    So don’t screw it up ok?
    Te he,


    • Ellen Bowers

      May 27, 2012 at 4:05 am

      Peter, you’re making me laugh! Thank you! Ellen

  16. Caroline Carrigan

    June 2, 2012 at 1:03 am

    It’s easier to stop sometimes than to put your work out there and expose its flaws. I have struggled with this since I was seven years old right up til this morning, and I suspect I’ll do so for years to come. I don’t know if that’s perfectionism or not, but I do know the concept of taking imperfect action feels like unbuckling your belt after Thanksgiving gluttony.

  17. Jennisen

    June 6, 2012 at 9:29 am

    Perfectionism is one if those things that you try to overcome or deny. I had a mother who was far from perfect AND I try to overcome her imperfections so my kids have it better than me. But to be true, I am far from perfect and ut eats me alive. Ask my husband!

    • Ellen Bowers

      June 6, 2012 at 10:00 am

      So very true! I’m finding as I work on the book that so many of the roots of perfectionism lie in the childhood experience. Another reason to do the best you can with your own kids! Thanks for your comment. Ellen

  18. Janet

    June 13, 2012 at 5:37 am

    I am definitely a perfectionist, but I’m working on getting better! Which, in itself is probably a manifestation of my perfectionism. Like others have said, mine shows itself as procrastination a lot of times. If I can’t do something just right or am not in just the right frame of mind to do it, I won’t start.

    I’ve been pondering where this perfectionism came from in my life, because my parents certainly did NOT teach me that I had to be perfect as a child. (Hi Mom!) I always did well in school, but nobody made me do it or gave me “rewards” for it or any such thing. It just came from inside me.

    I really think the school thing got worse during high school when I realized the whole thing was a competition and somebody was keeping score! Who knew at 14 that we were all being scored and ranked and that these numbers would influence college applications and who got to give speeches at graduations? But I learned this at about 15, and suddenly EVERY grade mattered. I wanted a perfect score, and if bonus points were available, I wanted the bonus.

    I think I still operate like that in life. I want the bonus points, always! I’m not sure what the points are redeemable for, but I’m certain it’s important!

  19. Rebecca

    June 13, 2012 at 6:55 am

    I wonder if I am a different sort of perfectionist. I have always been able to identify with people who consider themselves perfectionists, but it seems like they way I express it is a couple of clicks, um, “off” from the typical perfectionist. I said for years that I am not an overachiever, because I’ve always been a big fan of good enough as a student, and if it’s not fun to work on it anymore than I will just stop and call it good enough. But I have PhD, so, yeah. I guess that boils down to my standards being relatively higher than those of others, but I never felt the need to be perfect, just high achieving and not necessarily perfectly so. And my career is not a traditional career in light of those of my graduate school peers, since I’ve gone off on my own in a way that most of them have not. In more everyday respects, I have, once again, very high standards about the way I live and do things, but perfection is not exactly my goal. It’s in my relationships and my own personal growth, that part of me that sets those high standards and expectations, that I feel perfectionism tormenting me. I feel the need to be the perfect wife, mother, daughter, sister, employee, supervisor, friend, and I feel like I never measure up to my or others’ (possibly invented by me) expectations. When I think about my career and my everyday life, I think I’m doing alright, and that feels great! But when I think about all of those relationships in which I don’t feel I’m meeting my own or others’ expectations of me, I feel pretty crummy. My friends and husband can see clear as day that I’m too hard on myself, and they tell me so. And I can see that they’re right…or, perhaps I just want to believe that they’re right so that I can feel better about being a slouch in my social relationships?! I’m trying to work on it, and it is very difficult, but I’m getting somewhere with it. Slowly.

    • Ellen Bowers

      June 13, 2012 at 7:07 am

      Thank you for commenting, Rebecca. This perfectionism thing is just haunting, daunting, and thoroughly creepy. I love what you’ve written, and thank you for taking the time to do so. Ellen

  20. John Baumhauer

    June 15, 2012 at 6:14 am

    Perfectionism is an obstacle for me in life. It keeps me from experiencing other things. The city is beautiful when looked at from far away. It seems perfect. Close-up it’s dirty and seedy; the sidewalks are uneven. I try and do things a little “blurry” now. I think perfectionism stems from pride. The idea that I even know what is perfect just shows how imperfect I am. Symmetrical is “perfect in a sense, but boring and sterile. Greek architecture is a great example of assymetry. An artist once told me that it’s the imperfections that make things interesting. Look at our science. We have to add leap year… Perfect is just not possible, but flawed and beautiful is. ( I am not going to go back and edit this!)

    • Ellen Bowers

      June 15, 2012 at 6:53 am

      I like the idea of doing things a little blurry! Thanks for commenting. Ellen

  21. Steve

    August 7, 2012 at 7:43 am

    My wife was raised w/a couple of maids who did the cooking. Yet she loved to hang out in the kitchen. She cooked home made style like she had learned back home. She didn’t cook all of the time @ home, when she did it would take her hours, yet it always tasted exactly the same way each time. If she could not do something perfect she wouldn’t do it.


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