Faith, Fear, Perspective

Perspective: Six Thoughts for Overcoming Perfectionism

A yellow leaf, curled and spotted, showing imperfection amid a pile of brown leaves

@JeanneTakenaka

I have a love-hate relationship with perfectionism. I want to do things perfectly. I feel good when I do things perfectly, but I’m afraid I won’t be able to.

Too often, that fear has dictated how I do—or don’t do—important things. Too often, I’ve stuffed my brave into a small closet as fear declared I couldn’t do it.

Recently, I was trying to write my first email for a newsletter. The words wouldn’t come together. So, I organized electronic files. I watched snow drift outside my window. 

And I ignored the blank screen on my laptop.

A yellow leaf with pieces broken off of it—imperfect in appearance

What if I did it wrong?

What if no one likes my writing?

What if I don’t say things in a way people engage with?

What if it’s (gulp) BORING?

Instead of attempting it, I defaulted to false productivity. 

This is a disappointing tendency to discover within myself. When I know I need to do something, but I don’t think I’ll get it right? I avoid it.

A tomato still on the vine with a scar where it had cracked open—imperfect

I’ve caught myself doing this when stymied on a story element. I get stuck on a scene and want to get it just right. I start to analyze, and then I freeze.

I research. I organize my digital photos, I purge piles in my home . . . all the while turning my back to the task I need to confront. 

There’s a place for “Mulling” as my friend Beth Vogt says, or pondering how to approach the challenge. 

But if that takes a week, or two (yes, I’m guilty of this), that’s avoiding. 

Dead leaves on a branch with new buds growing—

I guess I’m not as much of a recovering perfectionist as I thought. 

The thing is, if I don’t try at all? I’ll never move forward. I’ve considered what holds me back from living out the Nike motto: Just Do It.

Signs of a perfectionist include:

*Not attempting something at all because it can’t be done perfectly, or “right” the first time

*Feeling stalled by a task because I don’t know how to do it just right

*Faking myself out by completing minor jobs because I just can’t face the one task that needs to be completed

*Overcoming a perfectionistic thought process requires a change in perspective. Instead of perfection, maybe I need to focus on good enough.

Leaves colored red and yellow with pieces eaten out of them—imperfect

Here are six mindsets that help us move beyond perfectionism:

1. There’s almost nothing that must be done “perfectly” the first time. We often have more chances to shape that thing (whatever it is) into what it needs to be.

2. Completing one step imperfectly stills moves us further along than avoiding it. No one’s going to read the first draft of my story. But, attempting something, whatever the project—even if it’s less than perfect—is moving forward.

3. Fear of failure or of not doing something “perfectly” holds us back. We need to confront our fear head-on if we want to overcome.

4. Most of the time, doing something well is enough. Holding ourselves to a standard of perfection only leaves us feeling less-than.

A meme that says, "There was only one perfect Person who walked the earth—ever—and we're not Him on a backdrop of flowers growing out of a rock. Some are blooming, some are shriveling, and some are still in bud.

5. Only one perfect Person walked the earth—ever—and we’re not Him. We’re going to make mistakes. The beauty of mistakes is we learn from them and do things differently next time.

6. God knows what needs to be done and how. When we pray and ask for His help, He will answer. When we remember He’s on this journey with us? It releases some of the pressure to be perfect.

In the times when we struggle with fear and feel like something must be done “just right,” let’s give ourselves grace to do it “good enough” for the first pass. Then we have something we can go back and improve upon.

A white wild rose with holes in the petals—imperfect

Sometimes, I have to tell my inner perfectionist, that inner fear-voice, to shush it. I need to put on my brave and just to the thing, even if it is imperfect. 

What about you? What tendencies have you noticed that reveal perfectionism? What helps you not fall into the perfectionist trap 

I am so, so excited to share a free ebook I’ve created for newsletter subscribers. Want to learn more? Click this link.

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30 thoughts on “Perspective: Six Thoughts for Overcoming Perfectionism”

  1. There are those who hold that good
    is great’s most deadly foe,
    implying that we really should
    seek perfection as we go
    upon the tasks we are appointed,
    and on the one’s we’ve chosen,
    but if we are thus self-anointed,
    I think we’re taking poison,
    for to discard imperfect joy
    is to reject a healing balm
    that in His wisdom God employs
    as benediction and salaam,
    offering His holy peace
    for work we’re willing to cease.

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    1. Andrew, there’s much wisdom in your words. I keep thinking about that good is the enemy of great. There’s a place for that belief system, but it’s not applicable to every situation is it? Sometimes what starts as “good enough” can become great with lots of hard work and intentional effort. I loved your words about not discarding the joy of doing something good. There is healing that comes in doing a good (not necessarily) perfect job on something.

      I’m praying for you, friend.

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  2. Thank you for this great reminder … Perfectionism with things and tasks is not nearly as difficult as it is trying to perform “perfectly” for people, namely trying to be all things to all people. I forget that the only person who can do that is Jesus … Ugh … such a long way to go. Thanks for helping me look to Him today, Jeanne.

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    1. Heidi, I’m with you. I used to expend so much energy and effort trying to be perfect, to be all things to all people. Everyone ends up disappointed when I attempt that. And, I leave God out of the equation. We do need to remember to let Jesus be God in every situation, don’t we? So thankful for you, friend!

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  3. Jeanne,
    I have struggled with perfectionistic thinking all my life. I remember having a teacher say to me, “I’ve never seen someone scare themselves into doing well.” I put SO much pressure on myself to get it perfect. I had to claim this for what it was/is…pride. God is God and I am not. Like you said, Jesus is the only perfect human to walk the face of this earth. If I can be perfect in my own power, then that really makes Jesus irrelevant. Battling right there with you…
    Blessings,
    Bev xx

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    1. Bev, your words hold so much wisdom. Years ago, a dear older friend encouraged me to stop trying so hard (to be perfect). I didn’t know any other way back then. I guess, between being an Enneagram One and desiring acceptance from people, I was doomed to fall into this mindset. I’m so thankful God reminds us WHO is God and who is not. 😉 Thanks for sharing your journey in this, my friend.

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  4. Yep! That’s me! I’ve noticed that I’m more perfectionist in some areas than others. I’ve never felt burdened by scrubbing a toilet perfectly. I just want to get it over with. I often have to take my own advice—I’m always telling my students, “Just get something on paper, anything. Vomit out your thoughts—you can go back later and make them pretty.” I’ve found working in sprints works for me. I write for 29 minutes, then take a 3-5 minute break to scrub a toilet or fold a load of laundry. Then I take another sprint. It helps me just vomit my ideas out and move past perfectionism.

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    1. As I’ve aged, I’m more like you, Anita, a perfectionist in some areas of my life and not so much in others. And yes, in the writing journey, just getting something on the page is all that is needed in the beginning. I have begun using a timer to help me with my tasks as well. I work on writing-related things for an hour, take a ten-minute break, and then get back to work on a writing/other task. I love your way of moving past perfectionism!

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    1. Yes, Melissa! An author friend of mine says, “Writing is re-writing!” I’ve found this to be true. My first draft is a fast-get-it-on-the-page draft. Then, I go back, look at what is solid, what needs to change and begin rewriting the scenes/parts of the story that need to be improved. Keep at it, friend!

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  5. Dear Jeanne, what terrific insights! I, too, have been guilty of linking procrastination with perfectionism then calling it being productive in other areas. And it’s so easy to get caught up in being afraid of what others may think of our efforts when of course, we should only be concerned about how our actions appear to God. Thank you for the gentle reminder to get a grip and get on with life. Blessings!

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    1. Alice, I’m glad (kind of 🙂 ) that I’m not alone in the procrastination/perfectionism conundrum. You are spot-on, our only concern about how our actions appear should be about how God views them. Thanks for that wisdom! and thank you for stopping by!

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  6. I struggle with perfectionism for two reasons. Although I am able to start projects fairly easily, even if they are boring or intimidating, I have a tendency to strive towards perfectionism. This puts undue stress and pressure on me as I engage in the tasks and steals some of the joy that might be found in the task. Rather than relax and enjoy the process and the moment, I concentrate, work hard, try to do it right. So, I am trying to avoid this tendency and accept that sometimes it is just good and right to participate and enjoy the journey.

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    1. Anne, I tend to put too much pressure on myself to do tasks perfectly as well. And you’re so right! Doing this steals the joy of the process. I guess we just have to be intentional in how we work on projects . . . but not toooo intentional! 😉 Thanks for sharing the areas you’re working on the “overcoming perfectionism” journey. 🙂

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  7. I am like Anita, somethings just need to be done. Like scrubbing the toilet. And yes to Anne. Perfection can suck the joy out of the task and cause stress. My husband likes home projects to be near perfect. And I am like, let’s just get it done. The door closes. It doesn’t need to be leveled 5 times to get it perfect.

    I find I am not a perfectionist in many things, but I like a job well done. But somewhere in my childhood, I thought if I was perfect in my actions and behavior, I would have less conflict and be more loved. So it doesn’t show up as much in my work as behavior. And it’s something I have to fight against. We all know only one perfect person has walked this earth. And it wasn’t me.

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    1. Theresa, I grinned as I read your response. We are similar in a lot of what you wrote. 🙂 I aimed for perfection in my first few decades of life because I yearned for acceptance from my peers. It was such a waste. Doing this colored my view of myself because, in trying to be perfect, to be someone I wasn’t, it took years for me to discover who God created me to be. Isn’t it a relief to know God doesn’t expect us to be perfect?

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  8. I am not a perfectionist but my husband is which at times makes him moody. He gets frustrated at me because as he says, I am too flippant at times over things. But once I have talk something through and there is nothing I can do to fix it, I am ready to move on. He tends to stay in a pit longer then me. But God loves to put opposites together, I have learned to be serious at times I wouldn’t be before. He has learned to laughed more at himself. Great post.

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    1. Betty, it sounds like you have a good mindset about things. Knowing when we can do something to improve things, and knowing when we can’t, makes all the difference in how we handle situations and projects, doesn’t it? I bet you are good for your husband. 🙂 Learning to laugh at ourselves is really helpful! Thanks for sharing!

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  9. Jeanne, I believe your response to being afraid of not living up to your very high expectations of yourself is similar to mine. I look for anything to keep me busy to avoid doing what it is I know I need to do. So glad to know I’m not the only one.

    I love your 6 mindsets. I need to remember number 5. There is only one perfect person who ever lived and it’s not me. I need to give myself the grace God gives so freely.

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  10. Oh, friend! I am the queen of avoidance when the task seems like one that might not turn out perfectly. It’s how I am wired and have been since a wee one. It was just understood to do our best when growing up and since my oldest brother was an overachiever, I tried to follow in his footsteps. I am not my brother and God created me uniquely so I could shine for who I am and not based on what others think or do.

    There is a glimmer of hope. As I get older, I have let go of some of my perfectionistic qualities.
    I look at my time and try to make decisions based on whether this is how I want to use that time. There is hope and freedom when we let go of perfectionism.

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    1. Ahhh, Mary. it’s fascinating to look back and figure out how we developed certain traits, isn’t it? I love that you’ve come to see both yours and your brother’s unique strengths and find value in yours. I’m learning to let go of some of my perfectionistic tendencies too.

      Now, if I could just instill some of that understanding into one of my sons . . . 😉

      I love that you evaluate how you’re using your time as a filter for determining your activities and decisions. That’s a lot of wisdom right there, friend.

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  11. Jeanne, I’m so glad you persevered and got that newsletter thing set up on your blog. (I’ve thought of doing that but so far have not gotten around to it.) I usually think I’m not a perfectionist, but when it comes to taking on big writing projects, I do procrastinate for the reasons you describe. It’s funny … one of my takeaways from our nearly done kitchen renovation has been “perfection is not the goal.” Good enough is enough. Hugs, friend!

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    1. Thanks so much, Lois! I tend to procrastinate on big writing projects too. I get so frustrated with myself when I do that. It sounds like you learned some good lessons in your kitchen renovation! There definitely comes a time in almost every situation where “good enough is enough.”

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