The Price of Perfection

“I am careful not to confuse excellence with perfection. Excellence I can reach for; perfection is God’s business.” ~ Michael J. Fox

Just this evening I had a brief exchange with a friend who is writing a book. It is a deeply personal story that she has been writing for quite some time. And she’s done! But she struggles with something that many of us do and not just with writing – and that is, perfection. She keeps going back to the story and her words and her emotions… finding yet more to change in her quest for perfection.

Perfection has different meanings for each of us. What complicates our relationship with perfection is our denial of two very basic truths: 1) We are not perfect and; 2) We are not, ultimately, in control.

In some cases, I still aspire to perfection. It is almost as though I am hard-wired to do flawless work (though obviously, not with my blog posts). πŸ™‚ When we make mistakes we often believe that we are not meeting our own or others’ expectations. And who wants to fall short? Yet, if life is about experimenting, experiencing, and learning, then to be imperfect is essential.

I have a close friend who, when it came to my perfectionist leanings, once told me to “Stop the insanity.” “Why are you doing this to yourself?” If you have ever been there or still have tendencies to perfect… and would like to change that, here are three considerations:

  • Practice the opposite. Be purposefully imperfect. See what happens. Arrive ten minutes late to work. Tell a lousy joke. Mismatch your socks. Laugh as you contemplate the possibility that imperfections are not only okay, they are life enhancing.
  • Disclose everything. There are few things more freeing than confession. Not necessarily to a priest but to a safe, trustworthy friend. Write down everything you’re afraid, ashamed, and embarrassed of, and read them to that person. You will likely be surprised when they look you in the eye and say, “I still love you.” This is a first step to discovering how imperfect you are without your armor.
  • Let go of your worries. By obsessing about the past, what happened, what we think we did wrong (or someone else did wrong), we are giving our power away. Be here, now, and focus on creating an imperfect (yet beautiful) life for yourself. Focus on reasonable, achievable possibilities, and practical/doable solutions.

66 thoughts on “The Price of Perfection

  1. Thanks for this great reminder. I’ve been too much of a perfectionist and control freak in the past and have only in recent years started to open myself up and become more open and eager to meet the chaos and crazy of life with a smile.

    • I’m happy, Holly, to share a message that serves to remind. I believe many of us have been too much a perfectionist. What counts and is encouraging is that many have come to realize this and chosen to reflect and redirect. Good for you!

    • I like your candid statement, Angela: “I don’t even purposelly stirve to be.” That sounds affirmative, healthy, and clear! And yes, being imperfect *is* what most people love about us. Thank you for sharing your perspective.

  2. “Life changes; and to be perfect is to change often.” – Cardinal John Henry Newman. Google him. Personally I believe he’s worth it! Great posting again Eric( – by the way!!!)

  3. Perfection is one nasty beast, all too often lost simply because we desire affirmation. True perfection is the patina on the arms of your grandmother’s kitchen chair. Write like you’re telling the story of that chair – a chair meaningless without flaws – imperfection can be an overwhelmingly powerful tool. We wouldn’t dream of stripping and sanding those years away – write from the heart. If you’re lucky enough, you’re good at it.

    • Such an apt and appreciated metaphor. Your word choice provides lovely imagery. Thank you for sharing, NTP. I agree with you, imperfection can be an overwhelmingly powerful tool. And so much easier to achieve.

    • Having visited that ‘booth’ many times in my earlier years, I can see the similarities to a Catholic confession. Yet the approach I suggested can be liberating and restorative. Both do take courage. Always good to ‘hear’ your views, Chris.

    • Kudos on your having chosen to give up trying, Lulu. And I suspect there will be no going back. πŸ™‚ Thanks for adding your personal experience so that others can appreciate your relief and joy!

    • I believe it is fair to say that most of us are “working on it.” Glad the message contributes to your staying grounded, WW. Appreciate your creating time to share a thoughtful comment. Onward! πŸ™‚

  4. Just when I think I’ve completely let go of perfection…another layer of needed healing presents itself. I am a work in progress…and releasing the perfection tendency is a part of it. Wonderful reminder! Thank you!

    • With each of us as “a work in progress,” we get to choose the degree to which perfection (or in lieu, excellence) is a focus of our being. The word that stands out (for me) in your comment is “releasing.” And in that vein, gradual is just fine. πŸ™‚ Thanks for adding your thoughts and experience, Carrie.

  5. It is amazing how many people I know (and I am one of them) that has this trait of always wanting to get things ‘perfect’ which is actually a pretty insane desire. M.J. Fox is correct in his thinking: β€œI am careful not to confuse excellence with perfection. Excellence I can reach for; perfection is God’s business.”

    The attempt to be perfect complicates life to no end, and as you say “We are not perfect and we are not, ultimately, in control.” It is a tough thing to do (I still can’t help it…) but it is true that to strive for true-perfection is a pretty serious character flaw, as it steals away the good we could otherwise experience. I’ll settle for good πŸ™‚ Cheers to another fantastic post Eric!

    • “A pretty insane desire.” I think that sums it up quite nicely. πŸ™‚ I had not thought of a focus on perfection as a character flaw, yet plainly, it is. To an earlier comment reply, I, too, opted for “good.” Thanks, Randall, for the clarity in and of your thoughts.

      On an unrelated note: may the 12th Man and “beast quake” prevail!

  6. How true!! ‘Perfection is God’s business’…but we still keep on struggling to accomplish it, that’s how we can bring it closer to excellence. I think it is ingrained in human psyche to strive for excellence because that seems to be a step towards perfection and I feel the difference too lies in our thoughts, though they may vary! What seems excellent to you may seem perfect to me. Isn’t it just a matter of perception?

    Thanks Eric, for such a thought provoking article.

    • To me it is equal parts fascinating and bewildering why we “keep on struggling,” Balroop. As with many other life facets, why the need for perfection when excellence – even good! is a favorable outcome? (Asked rhetorically.) And yes, perception obviously plays a role. How we filter is often how we distinguish ourselves. Then again, if we were to just leave it to God… πŸ™‚

  7. A beautiful quote. I spent years being a perfectionist and didn’t even know it. Thank you for such a terrific post. The three items to consider are very similar to what I did and you’re right, it was freeing. I’m still a perfectionist deep underneath, but I like being imperfect.

    • I spent years at it, too, although I was aware of what I was doing – just didn’t grasp the why. I’m warmed to learn that the considerations I shared worked for you. Being ‘liberated’ is such a good feeling and outcome. Glad you like “being imperfect.” I suspect others like you this way as well. πŸ™‚

    • I have yet to read MJF’s book. Sounds like he’s got some serious food for thought. Its read is due for me. And since I am aware of your Spanish speaking prowess, Shelley, I’ll simply congratulate you on that accomplishment! πŸ™‚

  8. I’m still working on letting go of perfection, but doing better. Admitting I don’t know everything or live my knowledge is one way that I embrace my imperfections. I haven’t tried to do things imperfect on purpose, but could be fun or at least an experiment. Thanks.

    • “Still working on” it counts, Brad! And “doing better” is a positive acknowledgment. The suggestion (and action) to try to be intentionally imperfect is amusing and eye-opening for many! Do consider trying. πŸ™‚ Thank you! for sharing your thoughts/feelings.

  9. I hear you on this one, Eric! I can relate to what you wrote and am very similar to you. This part that you wrote is so huge – 2) We are not, ultimately, in control. Internalizing that (which I do not always manage to do) can make all the difference in the world. We’re not perfect, nor will we ever be. There was only one perfect person and we will never be what He was. I try to remind myself that doing my best is the best I can do. Easier said than done, right? Your advice is good, and I agree that letting go of worries is really important and helpful. Always enjoy your posts, Eric! Have a good one.

    • Glad you “hear” here, Brian. Your remark, I try to remind myself that doing my best is the best I can do” is poignant, human, and wonderfully powerful. You have more thought and awareness with this topic than many. And yours is a grounded perspective. A “good one” returned to you and thanks for contributing to the exchange!

  10. Thank you for this interesting post, Eric. I am of Polish origin and for the Poles perfection lies in a natural disorder of things and spontaneity, or something that the Japanese people call wabi sabi. For years I brought confusion to the “Prussian” minds when I tried to explain to people that their perfection lies in their imperfections. I believe that only in this way we are truly human. And we are much happier once we understand this simple truth.

  11. My sister and I both joke with each other about our OCD tendencies in certain areas of our lives. Certain areas have to be perfect, while other areas we can easily overlook. I guess that’s what keeps us real. I would like to find a better middle-ground as I mature. πŸ™‚

  12. Progress, rather than perfection, Is good enough for me
    Being perfect is no longer “my cup of tea”

    Music, Art, Writing, Life . . . it’s all a wonderful dance, even if we step on toes or stumble along the way!

    The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself. ~ Anna Quindlen

  13. Ah, I feel your friend’s pain about her writing. I am not really a perfectionist about most things in my life… I tend to be a “throw paint at the canvas and see what happens” kind of person but when it comes to my writing (outside of blogging) I can labor myself to ruin. I think I’ve actually burned myself out quite badly because of this. I’m hoping that the blogging habits and the quick writing and hitting of “publish” will help get me back into that groove.

    • An interesting and recommendable (blogging habits) approach, Aussa! It seems an easy and logical way in which to ‘condition’ one to just move on and not get hung up on perfecting the message or story. And simply “throwing paint at the canvas” has yielded some beautiful work. In spontaneity and being less structured can come creativity. Good shares!

  14. What is perfection? To me, perfection is a sort of inspiration. That’s to say, is something wrong? Well, try to improve it. But I think perfection doesn’t exist, too. It mustn’t become a cage because the real beauty is in the imperfection. As usual, sorry for my English, I hope I explained my thoughts πŸ˜‰

    • You very nicely explained your thoughts, Andrea, and I appreciate them. “…the real beauty is in the imperfection” is a lovely way to frame the matter. Thank you for creating time to share your perspectives… in “perfect” English. πŸ™‚

  15. My problem with perfection is the flaws that come with it. It is a perception. Even when one thinks that has found the best way to do or make something, someone will come along to find a better perspective or something that was missed. What comes before perfection is “good”. And “good” is okay when you have restrictions: time, money, space, size… So there is a saying that we have that might be a universal one that goes: Perfection is enemy of the good. The good news is that we can always go from good to better and to best! πŸ™‚

    • I am inclined to concur and add that “good” is often very good in many instances. Yet some choose to be discontent with good or very good and always want greater or more. And while we can desire or aspire to better and best, wouldn’t it be good to appreciate good? At least more often than we do? πŸ™‚ Thank you, Cedric for sharing your astute insights.

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    • More often than some may think, readers share comments about how they were just reading or speaking about “X.” I’m unsure if the blog post timing is serendipitous or coincidental. Bottom line: the message resonated. Glad to learn it served to remind and perhaps, reinforce. πŸ™‚ Thanks, Denise.

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