Inspiration - Motivation

You Strive For Perfection? Successful Aren’t Perfectionists

What does it mean to strive for perfection? Those we think of as successful today, do they actually think of themselves as perfectionists?

“Have no fear of perfection – you will never reach it.”

Salvador Dali
Success text written in blackboard - No need to strive for perfection
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First thing first. Based on the Oxford dictionary, “perfection is the state of being perfect” and being perfect means you are having everything that is necessary; you are being complete and without faults or weaknesses.

Thinking of perfection as being someone without faults or weaknesses, does perfection even exist?

I remember myself years back when I was thinking about perfection as something I had to pursue in every possible way. Perfection regarding my performance in school, in my appearance, in whatever I wanted to create. I even wanted my handwriting to be perfect, round, and of the same shape as the letters printed on a book.

Back then I would strive for perfection every single day. I would describe myself as a perfectionist and I would be proud of it. I really thought of it as an advantage. Who wouldn’t like to be around a perfectionist? Who wouldn’t want to have a perfectionist work for him?

Strive for Perfection – The Dark Side of Perfectionism

Growing older, all I realized was that even if I would try, and I would try really hard, I could never reach the perfect. And most of the time this would make me feel like a total failure.

black woman with eyes closed touching face in thoughts of failure- strive for perfection
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Thankfully, I realized soon enough that perfectionism, no matter how good the word sounds, is not a good thing. I had moments that I was close to a mental breakdown, I even had people really close to me collapsing due to their perfectionism.

Through my working experience, I have met people who would choose to deliver nothing because what they had worked on and prepared was not close to the idea of perfect they had in their minds. I know people who do not attend important events because they are afraid they don’t look good enough or because they don’t have the perfect outfit etc.

Scientific Proof about Perfectionism Problem

Looking into it a bit more I found out that there are scientific researches that prove that perfectionism is related to many mental health issues. Along with other stress factors, perfectionism may lead to depression, anxiety, anorexia, bulimia, even suicide ideation.

woman in white dress in bath tub having suicide thoughts
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Those who strive for perfection have a tendency to become workaholics and work until they reach burnout. Perfectionism is even related to shortening the years a person may live.

“Perfectionism is self-abuse of the highest order.”

Anne Wilson Schaef

Successful People Strive for Progress not Perfection

A perfectionist could never feel pleased or satisfied enough with himself or the outcome of his work. This would lead him to a constant feeling that he is not good or perfect enough.

In most cases, being a perfectionist means that you procrastinate to produce, to participate, and to reach a final outcome. Perfectionists do not allow themselves to be wrong, to make mistakes, to fail, to look ridiculous in the eyes of others.

Perfectionists start their journey in life, or whatever they choose to do, thinking that what they want is “All or nothing”, and because “all” usually comes as the final step of many “little bit at a time”, perfectionists feel disappointed. They feel disappointed because they are not willing to feel pleased with this “little bit”. In their eyes, this “little bit” is equal to failure. And to them, failure is not an option.

wood typography photography about learn from failure - strive for progress not for perfection
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Why Successful People are not Perfectionists

Even if perfectionists will succeed in what they had in mind, they would not be pleased. They would feel a bit of a disappointment thinking that maybe the goal was not good enough in the first place. They would always want for something more. And then they would set another goal, and another, and another.

Ok, under these terms, maybe some of the perfectionists are successful in a way. But who wants to be successful without feeling the pleasure of success? And are you really successful if you always want more and more?

I do not claim that setting goals is a bad thing. On the contrary, setting goals and trying to do better each time and become a better version of yourself is great. Every time a goal is accomplished it should be celebrated as a “small” victory. And yet, this is what perfectionists loathe, the “small”.

Success is not a straight line and it neither is only about the destination. To succeed in something means that you allow yourself to be wrong, to make lots of mistakes, to fail over and over again, to look ridiculous, and be laughed at. In other words, all those things that are not acceptable for a perfectionist.

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Thomas Edison

Some Successful People Who Finally Succeeded Because They Failed

Personally, I don’t think I can recall the name of anyone who became successful right away. On the other hand, if I have to mention names of successful people who went through failures I find it far easier.

motivation text to go after success
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For instance, Beethoven was thought of his teachers as too stupid to become a music composer. He was actually too busy working on his own compositions than practicing what his teachers wanted him to study.

Michael Jordan, who is considered the best basketball player of all time, was cut from his high school basketball team. Stephen King’s first thriller, “Carrie”, was rejected 30 times before it finally got published. Steven Spielberg was rejected from USC’s School of Theater, Film, and Television three times.

I could go on listing names and failures for pages but I think you got my point.

None of the above successful were or are perfectionists. If they were they wouldn’t have succeeded, or if they did they wouldn’t have enjoyed their success.

All of them followed their passion, worked hard with persistence towards what was meaningful to them. They did not strive for perfection, they tried to do the best they could each time and that was enough for them.

They were not afraid to look ridiculous or to fail because they did fail, over and over again and this is why they succeeded.

Successful people aren’t perfectionists. They strive for progress, not perfection.

“Striving for perfection is the greatest stopper there is. You’ll be afraid you can’t achieve it. It’s your excuse to yourself for not doing anything. Instead, strive for excellence, doing your best.”

Laurence Olivier

If you liked this post you might also like “Why you Should Be Thankful for your Difficulties” or “How Anger Affects Your Life and How to Deal With it

Resources – Relative articles

https://bmcpsychiatry.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-244X-14-98

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10608-005-2414-8

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19383652/

https://www.brainscape.com/academy/famous-people-who-overcame-failure/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lFG1b1-EsW8 (Our dangerous obsession with perfectionism is getting worse | Thomas Curran

102 thoughts on “You Strive For Perfection? Successful Aren’t Perfectionists”

  1. Totally agree with all points.

    I used to be an all or nothing person who was always striving for more. Coupled with my anxiety, this became unhealthy.

    Now I choose to have healthy goals and realistic points on my to do list each day. I don’t stress about small things anymore. I don’t have the energy for it!

    1. It does! Way too much energy…. If only we could understand how much energy goes wasted when beeing stressed and worried! Healthy goals is the key to effective progress. Thank you for commenting ❤️

  2. This is such an inspiring post 🙂 When I was younger, I would also consider myself as a perfectionist. But I was also the worst procrastinator, and would struggle to finish things, because I had the mindset that I was going to fail anyway. Now I believe in progress over perfection 🙂 Thanks for sharing.

  3. I love the title “successful people are not perfectionist”. I hate when I go for job interviews and I mention “I’m a perfectionist” because that’s what they want to hear.
    It’s ok to be flawed, it’s ok to make mistakes so far we keep getting better everyday. Thanks for sharing

    1. I know the feeling in interviews Rayo! I have been there. The only person who never makes mistakes is the one who does nothing. Thank you for reading and commenting 🙂

    1. Yes, that is how life is but some people struggle to do it all perfect at once and then suffer because they didn’t make it. Thank you for commenting Fransic ❤️

  4. This is something that I have struggled with a lot over the years. I was a perfectionist when I was first considering working from home in the freelance space and it killed any chance of my business growing. Why? Because I had ZERO confidence in myself and that had a negative impact on every area of my life. When I finally started to let that go and trust in myself, everything started to work and fall into place.

    1. It is important to accept the fact that we are allowed to make mistakes. I think it is even more important to make mistakes with confidence, learn from them and move forward. Thank you for reading and sharing your experience with us 💗

  5. This was a really interesting read! I think perfectionism is something I’ve always struggled with, I’ve always needed to be perfect in everything I do but I’m starting to realise that’s not healthy or realistic. Thanks for sharing, I really needed to hear this and I love the examples you used too (you’re totally right about Beethoven and Michael Jordon!).

  6. I don’t have the characteristics of a perfectionist but I think all of us at some point will experience some of what perfectionists typically go through. I think modern day living has definitely made perfectionism more prevalent as we are constantly bombarded with it being an ideal. This was really useful to read and I love how encouraging this is — thanks for sharing!

    1. Oh yes Molly. The constant promotion of ideal role models and perfectionism as something we should pursue through media is a huge story. I am glad you liked it and you found it encouraging. Thank you for commenting ❤️

  7. I am guilty of trying to do everything perfectly and trying to do more things when I need to sit back and relax a bit. I put a lot of pressure on myself. This post has been really helpful post.

    Lauren – bournemouthgirl.com

    1. It is good for you that you realize it Lauren. You should be taking your time to relax more often I think.
      Thank you for reading and commenting 🙂

  8. This piece has me thinking as I am a perfectionist and often it is the root cause of why I feel down from time to time. When you spoke about how successful people strive for progress, not perfection, I started to fall in love with the idea of redefining what I am reaching and working for.

    I love the insight and examples you use to help this post come together in as inspirational and interesting a way as it is! Thank you for sharing. 🙂

    1. I love your comment Jaya. This is what I wanted to do because this is also how I used to feel from time to time. Thank you for commenting ❤️

  9. Eri, Forget the successful ones! No one is perfect.
    Who can attain perfectionism?
    Even though this leaves room for error by mankind, even machines make mistakes too. Anything can go wrong any time. Well, even hackers infiltrate systems created by human beings even when all loopholes sealed by AI. They still get vulnerable attacks.
    Perfectionists do not exist.
    However, failing is not the end. Being able to adapt and pick up the pieces to start over is one of the most sought after soft skills in the world today.
    We should strive to be better today than yesterday. Successful people know that they have to learn new skills or hire those with new ones, in addition to reading widely everyday. This then is striving to excellence.

    Lovely personal development blog post that challenges a falsely held belief.
    H Emma

    1. I totally agree with your comment. There is no perfection. It is only our false belief sometimes that make us believe it exists. Thank you so much for reading and taking time to leave a comment 🙂

    1. Over the years Nadine I have realized that no matter how hard I try there is always room for something to go wrong. Take care of yourself and remember that even if something is not perfect it doesn’t mean it isn’t good enough.
      Thank you for reading and commenting 🙂

  10. Excellent post. Strive for excellence so true. Perfectionism definitely becomes a burden. When you continue to work towards doing your best it will yield wonderful results. Thank you for sharing. 😊

    Pastor Natalie
    Letstakeamoment.com

  11. Perfectionism isn’t achieve, doing the best you can is. I find so called perfectionists highly anxious, stressful people to be around plus they are never truly happy, whilst those who try their best are.

    1. Perfectionists are always anxious and nervous. I think that is because they don’t want to admit that what they fight for can never be reached. Thank you Susan for commenting ❤️

  12. Perfectionism is something a lot of people struggle with and even I am not exempted. I used to be one hell of a perfectionist. I wanted everything I did to be a 100 percent perfect and that really affected me negatively. Perfectionism will make you feel like you aren’t up to standard, and it will make you feel like you aren’t doing enough.

    Perfectionism is exhausting to say the least. I saw the negative effect perfectionism had on me and I decided to stop be a perfectionist and just make sure I do my best as often as I can. When we make sure to do our best, good things happen. And yea… Successful people are not perfectionists, they are people who decided to put in their best. Everyone makes mistakes and no one is perfect.

    1. Exactly Ruth! Perfectionism has so many bad effects on humans. Being a perfectionist feels like punishing yourself every day for something that cannot be reached. Thank you for commenting 🙂

  13. this is so inspirational! we should strive to become the best versions of ourselves not perfect

  14. It’s sad how many of us are actually sticking our own future success with perfectionism. I think it’s actually a disease. Great read. I hope you inspire many to let go of that news for perfection. You’ve certainly reminded me of same

    1. Perfectionism is so much promoted as a good thing that as you said people get sick trying to become perfect. I am glad that my post worked as a reminder to you. Thank you so much for reading and commenting 🙂

  15. agreed! i think people see perfection as a standard that we should all aim for, as if it is attainable for everyone when the truth is — it’s not. no one’s perfect — and no one should be. as you say , we should simply aim for progress — and little by little achieve the desired results.

  16. I couldn’t agree more! A coach friend of mine always says, ‘Just start doing it. If it’s only 80%, who cares? You can work on it later.’

    1. Your friend is right! You can never get to the top of the lader unless you take a first step. Thank you Rita for reading and commenting 🙂

  17. Perfectionism is actually something I’ve never struggled with and I’m really happy about that. I know people who are – my boyfriend for one – and it drives me mad (and it makes him unhappy at times). I’m more of a realist. We’re human, nobody is perfect x

    1. I am jealous of you Jenny. When I think about it now I wish I understood earlier how harmful perfectionism is. Thank you for reading and commenting 🙂

  18. Perfectionism is very tough, and luckily I’ve not struggled with it too much- although I do always want to do a good job. I find I beat myself up a lot if I don’t get something right the first time, such as when I hand in work for a freelance client. This is a great post for me to come back to when I have these tendencies 🙂 x

  19. Perfectionism can definitely be debilitating. It makes it difficult to even complete a task, let alone feel like your succeeded in it. Great post!

  20. Great article Eri! I completely agree with you. I was a perfectionist up until recently but learned that perfection isn’t a realistic goal. But now ‘progress, not perfection’ is my mantra!

  21. Totally agree with you. We all are different and we want different things, thus my definition of success might not be equal to someone else’s. Thank you for your comment 🙂

  22. I struggled perfectionism at work.at some point. And this means not being able to delegate task and micro managing. And it’s not healthy and more stressful. Over time I learned to let go and think of progress. Mistakes are part of the process. What’s important is to learn and be better…

    1. Sometimes we can only learn through our mistakes so they definitely are part of the process. Thank you for reading and commenting 🙂

    1. That is right Andrea! I have seen perfectionism bworking as a blocking factor to even start doing something not only finishing it. I am glad you liked it. Thank you so much for commenting ❤️