Perfectionism is defined as “the act of making or doing something completely free from faults or defects.”
Being a self-proclaimed perfectionist is defined as “a person who refuses to accept any standard short of perfection.”
Think for a moment how many times you have heard someone say they strive to be “perfect,” or that they strive for “perfectionism” and/or are a “perfectionist.” In fact, maybe you yourself have used these terms in describing your own efforts pertaining to the tasks you take on in life. In essence, these terms all speak to the idea of being absolutely flawless, and while it is (in theory) a wonderful aspiration, is it realistic?
“Perfectionism” is thrown around far too loosely
While it may be true that many people who self-proclaim to be perfectionists don’t actually strive to be perfect in the absolute sense, just using terms like “perfect” subtly set up individuals to work toward goals that simply aren’t realistic. In fact, think about how many times a day you are imperfect — chances are this occurs far more times than being perfect. Still, we commonly talk to people on a daily basis who openly talk about being perfectionists.
Semantics aside, there are some very real, negative psychological consequences of going through life trying to be perfect. Because being perfect is an impossibility, individuals who strive for perfection have already started a game they simply cannot win. Sure, there will certainly be some rare instances where perfectionism is achieved, but there will undoubtedly be exponentially more days where imperfection is the end result. Herein lies the bigger problem — specifically, how perfectionists respond when they aren’t “perfect.”
If the goal is perfection, and you end up being imperfect, it’s easy to see how anxiety can quickly be experienced in simply trying to be even more perfect the next time out. Consequently, the efforts made to continuously be perfect, when met with the reality that most of the time we aren’t perfect, tends to compound over time and can result in very heightened, exaggerated levels of debilitating anxiety that could actually be offset by making one, simple, strategic move:
Rather than going for perfection, strive for excellence.
While perfection is absolute and dichotomous (you are either perfect or you aren’t), excellence allows latitude for mistakes and bad days. And don’t assume that the quality of your work will suffer by reluctantly agreeing to lower your standards, as the exact opposite might actually occur as a result of changing your worldview. Specifically, by not experiencing as much anxiety trying to be perfect, you will actually set yourself up to develop better confidence, clearer focus, and even stronger resiliency.
Sure, striving for perfection on paper sounds great, but is it a reality? And what is the price to pay whenever you go out and aren’t perfect? Do you experience more stress and unrest as a result? Going for excellence doesn’t compromise future goals or potential performance, but it does widen the scope of what is considered successful behavior and achievement, providing for less stress and anxiety. From my experiences working with clients, I find that excellence is a very worthwhile life pursuit, and allows individuals to more thoroughly enjoy life due to fewer right/wrong, good/bad dichotomous parameters to battle.