Letting Go of Perfectionism

By Barbara Danza
Barbara Danza
Barbara Danza
writer
Barbara Danza is a mom of two, an MBA, a beach lover, and a kid at heart. Here, diving into the challenges and opportunities of parenting in the modern age. Particularly interested in the many educational options available to families today, the renewed appreciation of simplicity in kids’ lives, the benefits of family travel, and the importance of family life in today’s society.
September 22, 2021 Updated: September 22, 2021

I’ve recently begun to recognize how self-sabotaging and hindering perfectionism can be. Perfectionism almost sounds virtuous. After all, what harm could there be in striving to reach perfection?

That’s not how perfectionism plays out, however. With perfectionism, the standard of perfection can never be realized. So rather than attempting to get as close as possible, one protects oneself from the shame and disappointment of falling short by avoiding the work, the endeavor, or the dream altogether. Avoidance tends to manifest itself as procrastination, distraction, laziness, foggy-headedness, or even a state of being busy with other, less meaningful work.

The tragedy of perfectionism is that one’s innate gifts, inherent talents, and greatest potential are never brought to light, but squandered in favor of self-preservation. There’s nothing perfect about that.

So, what’s a perfectionist to do?

Look Within

Letting go of perfectionism must start with a search for truth within oneself. The fears of not living up to one’s own standards, of being judged by others, and of facing the limits of life in this world need to be recognized. Looking within oneself in search of the notions and ideas that are stifling progress as well as the ways in which, consciously or unconsciously, avoidance plays out can be very enlightening.

Define Perfection

There’s a vast difference between perfection and perfectionism. While perfectionism is hindering, perfection is an ideal of infinite potential. What ideals one aims at determines the trajectory of one’s life.

Whether the ideals are those of moral character, creative endeavor, or service to others, it’s useful, inspiring, and motivating to have a vision of one’s ideal.

Focus on Progress

Where perfectionists get hung up is after envisioning their ideal, they freeze. They’ve experienced disappointment before of not being able to manifest the perfect vision in their mind, so they seem to get stuck in inertia, scrolling Instagram, or reorganizing their sock drawer instead.

The antidote to avoidance is to lay all of one’s focus upon making progress, not reaching perfection. A perfectionist may even tell himself that the most perfect way to get started is to simply make a very tiny amount of progress and celebrate doing so each and every time.

Life is long and imperfect, but aiming for the highest ideal one can conceive of is worthwhile. The way to bring that to bear is to make consistent progress over time. You’ve heard it before: focus on progress, not perfection. One can aim for one’s current conception of perfection without ever requiring or achieving perfection. The way to do that is to focus on progress.

Stay Flexible

As one aims for one’s ideal, one might hopefully learn along the way, gaining wisdom and perspective. One’s understanding of perfection will very likely change, an idea that may bring comfort to a recovering perfectionist.

As one takes consistent action, celebrating incremental improvements along the way, remaining open to new ideas and possibilities and maintaining flexibility can also combat the tendency toward hard-nosed perfectionism.

Treasure the Journey

Finally, the humble recognition that we humans can’t possibly conceive of true perfection with our human limitations can be a great comfort to a perfectionist. Rather than lament our mortal limitations, we can treasure the journey toward the highest ideal we can conceive and the growth and enlightenment that may transpire as a result.

A perfectionist is stuck, frozen in time, and unwilling to try in order to avoid suffering. When he or she recognizes that you can aim for perfection, never reach it, and still uncover immense fulfillment as a result, the perfectionism can be tossed aside.

Barbara Danza
Barbara Danza is a mom of two, an MBA, a beach lover, and a kid at heart. Here, diving into the challenges and opportunities of parenting in the modern age. Particularly interested in the many educational options available to families today, the renewed appreciation of simplicity in kids’ lives, the benefits of family travel, and the importance of family life in today’s society.