Cutting Through Perfectionism

I had never thought of myself as a perfectionist, but in a recent conversation with a friend who’s known me for many years, she casually said, “You’re like me. We’re both perfectionists.” We are? I am? What is a perfectionist anyway?

I’ve always understood it to mean that you set high standards for yourself and for those around you; that you can be counted on to deliver a high quality performance, service, or product; and that you want nothing but the best in all situations. Isn’t that a good thing?

Not according to Jungian therapist and author of Addiction to Perfection, Marion Woodman, who sees perfectionism as a consequence of an imbalance arising from a culture that emphasizes specialization and perfection, and as a major cause of eating disorders, substance abuse, and other addictive and compulsive behaviors.

Maybe not such a good thing.

Unfortunately, many of us are unconsciously seduced by the fantasy that would have us believe that if we were only perfect, we would be beyond criticism, we would be loved, we would be good, and we would never be rejected or hurt.

That’s a lie and it’s a destructive one. It makes us so terrified of making mistakes that we’re incapable of delegating, meeting deadlines, handling feedback, or seeing the bigger picture. Worse, it robs us of our willingness to be vulnerable, which is crucial for creative people. In fact it’s crucial for everyone.

I got a chance to face my perfectionism head on at “Flirting with the Arts,” which took place on the evening of May 25 at the Gallery at Artisan Square on Bowen Island.  It was a great event where a number of local artists offered mini-workshops on a range of artforms, and where I provided 15-minute, one-on-one creativity coaching sessions. I had a great time and was fully booked with creativity coaching clients all evening long.

But then I discovered a mistake on my handout, “25 Tips to Enhance Your Creativity,” printed on paper with a lively fireworks design on it. One of the “tips” was a half sentence that made absolutely no sense. Worse, I didn’t discover the error until after getting home from the event. I felt ill. All of those potential coaching clients are going to think I’m an idiot! So will the Gallery. I gave one to them too!

Fortunately, those feelings didn’t last long. Instead of seeing the error as an indelible blight on my creativity coaching career, I saw it as a minor and easily correctable mistake on an excellent handout given out at a successful event. I also saw this minor glitch as an opportunity to connect with the people whom I’d coached by emailing them a corrected version of the handout. Guess what tip replaced the nonsensical one? You got it. “Embrace Imperfection.”

For more on that and on other ways of cutting through perfectionism, check out the following tips:

  1. Embrace imperfection as a delightful aspect of being human. When I deliver a workshop and some minor thing goes wrong in the early stages, I feel relieved because everyone in the room relaxes, including me.
  2. Set deadlines. The more time you give to complete a task, the longer you will dither over getting it “right.” So limit your time and do the best you can within the time available.
  3. Make a list of your failures. Be playful about it. If the list is long, pat yourself on the back. You’re committed to growing and learning and you’re not paralyzed by perfectionism. If it’s too short, it means you’ve got a big list of things that you’d love to do if you weren’t afraid of failing. Time to start doing them!
  4. Get my “25 Tips to Enhance your Creativity” handout! It offers a number of tips for thwarting perfectionism and other foes of creativity! All you have to do is email me at and I’ll send you your copy.
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One thought on “Cutting Through Perfectionism

  1. Melissa

    Excellent advice for the writer or anyone for that matter Donaleen! I loved it when you said ‘If it’s too short (your list of failures), it means you’ve got a big list of things that you’d love to do if you weren’t afraid of failing. The sign above my writing desk days ‘What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?’ Answer: Everything! Great article – thanks for the reminder 🙂

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