Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Six Perspectives on Perfectionism

handwritten note that say, in part, I'm sorry, I can't be perfect

As a recovering perfectionist - and someone who sees how excess perfectionism sometimes leads to clutter and disorganization - I'm always interested in writings on the subject. Here are a few.

From Pitfalls of Perfectionism, an article in Psychology Today, by Hara Estroff Marano (via New Leaf News by Margaret Lukens):
You could say that perfectionism is a crime against humanity. ... Perfectionists, experts now know, are made and not born, commonly at an early age.
From the book Refuse to Choose, by Barbara Sher:
Perfectionist need to admit the source of their conflict. ... Be honest. You're not working to your own high standards; you're working for someone's approval. It could be your parents, your high school English teacher, your boss - even your nosy neighbor. It could very well be a voice from your past. Wherever you find a perfectionist, a critic is not far away. But you can waste a perfectly good life trying to meet the standards of someone who thinks you're not good enough because they can't understand who you are.
From the New York Times article Unhappy? Self-Critical? Maybe You're Just a Perfectionist by Benedict Carey:
"It’s natural for people to want to be perfect in a few things, say in their job — being a good editor or surgeon depends on not making mistakes," said Gordon L. Flett, a psychology professor at York University and an author of many of the studies. "It’s when it generalizes to other areas of life, home life, appearance, hobbies, that you begin to see real problems."
From time management author Mark Forster:
Remember that procrastination is often caused by perfectionism. We make tasks unnecessarily large because we can’t accept that we are going to do them anything less than perfectly. The result is that we often don’t do them at all! Counteract this by asking yourself "What’s the minimum I can do here that’s good enough?"
From the article Breaking the Perfection Habit, by Penelope Trunk:
Once I stopped worrying about doing something perfectly, I didn't have nearly as much reason for procrastination. It's easy to start something if you tell yourself that getting it done 70 percent perfect (as opposed to 100 percent) is OK.
From Neil Gaiman, author of (among many things) the hugely popular comic book series The Sandman:
I just learned that my old friend Steve Whitaker is dead. Steve was a terrific artist and a good guy, kind, helpful, generous, all that -- he's best known in the US for his work colouring V for Vendetta.

He would have been the colourist on Sandman but he never turned in the sample pages he was given to colour, because they weren't quite perfect yet, and by the time he was nearly satisfied with them someone else already had the job. I learned a lot from that. I learned a lot about comics, about the history of comics, about strip cartoons, from Steve. I wish he'd been willing to draw more, to let it go, to feel more comfortable making mistakes in public. Mostly I wish he'd done more comics.

Related Posts:
Selective Perfectionism
Going For Good Enough
The Six Styles of Procrastination

[image by Léoo™ / Leonard Cillo]


Lee said...

The message in the note in the picture is very chilling for me. It makes me think that it is a goodby note from someone who is going to commit suicide. I'm not a suicide expert, but do think that some are caused by people feeling that they can't live up to expectations (theirs or someone else's) or find an acceptable solution for the situation they are in and that they are failures.

Please don't think that this is criticism of your post and links or of the picture. Looking at it was sobering to me and I wanted to pass on the perspective and look at some of the tragic outcomes caused by perfectism.

ParisBreakfasts said...

Thanks for so many helpful links and thoughts. From one who tells herself..not ready yet...tomorrow will be better to do such and such etc.

Jeri Dansky said...

Paris Breakfasts, I glad you found it helpful. And thanks for commenting, because now I know about your lovely blog; I just subscribed!

Lee, I hesitated using the photo for just the reason you mention, but when I read the text at the web site it came from, I didn't get the impression it was a suicide note - although it wasn't entirely clear.

Silly me: I just realized that I was actually reading the lyrics of a pretty amazing song by Simple Plan. Wikipedia describes the song this way: The song deals with the pressures of trying to be the perfect child simply for the sake of making your parents proud but then deciding that it is not worth it. It also talks about being made to feel inadequate because you do what makes you happy. Both the song and the video contrast the difficulties of meeting parental expectations and self-determination.

SueBK said...

I refer to myself as a 'recovering perfectionist'. Recovering is the term used by the AA 12 Steps to suggest that it is an ongoing process that takes continual vigalence and effort to maintain.

I have had to laugh at myself when I find I'm being a perfectionist about not being a perfectionist. It sounds bizarre; and when you realise you're doing it - it is bizarre LOL.

I think the worst aspect about perfectionism is that it destroys relationships. And that's the main reason why its a passion of mine to subdue it. I could live with never getting things finished or started; but I don't want to push away the people that mean the most to me.

It's actually an interesting hot button. I'd married a couple of years before I realised that The Man is also a perfectionist. He expresses it very differently to me. I will start a million projects and never finish them because something has gone wrong. He just won't start anything LOL. It took another couple of years for him to begin to see for himself that he really is actually a perfectionist. He would get quite upset when I pointed out perfectionist traits.

Particularly in the workplace, I find perfectionism is touted as a positive. I don't think it is ever a positive. I've typed up too many 11th hour reports because some perfectionist has laboured over getting the exact right words; when really it just didn't matter all that much as all. When people boast "I'm a perfectionist" I always reply "I'm really sorry. Its such a horrible affliction." Sometimes, they just give me a strange look and move on; but sometimes it opens up an opportunity to discuss how it just might be limiting their life.

Okay, I'll shut up now. This is a real passion of mine. I could probably write a book about everything I've learnt; but I doubt I'll ever get around to it hehehehe.

Jeri Dansky said...

SueBK, I love your response to the "I'm a perfectionist" boast!

And you raise a very good point about the impact on relationships - thank you for adding that dimension to the discussion.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Jeri, for this rich discussion. I'm glad I could contribute to it. I hope that soon perfectionism will no longer be mistaken for a commitment to excellence or being careful and thorough; it is neither. Margaret Lukens,