An Excellent Guide To Overcoming Perfectionism

“The important work of moving the world forward does not wait to be done by perfect men” – George Elliott

We all know the feeling…

We start a diet, and we stick to it PERFECTLY.

Then suddenly temptation gets the better of us…

…we eat ONE bad thing and BOOM.

We binge like there’s no tomorrow and feel guilty.

This is All Or Nothing Thinking, a classic symptom of perfectionism.

But perfectionism doesn’t just affect our diets, it affects our confidence, our relationships, and our work…

…and it needs to be stamped out.

Why Learning From Failure Is ESSENTIAL

In How To Overcome Procrastination And Turn ProI briefly explained that we often know what we should do in order to succeed, but often find the idea of following our own advice too frightening to act upon.

If we fail under someone else’s council then surely it is not our competence that is questionable, but the council we have received.

We seek out external resources (like this article) to lift some of the burdens of responsibility from ourselves and provide a way of rationalising any potential failure.

The fear of creating art and the fear of following our own advice, I believe, are symptoms of our proclivity to take failure personally.

We live in a society where everyone basically gets given the same opportunities to succeed, and so our eventual position in life, including the successes and failures along the way, are thought of as deserved.

Good fortune is no longer a recognised compliment. Bad luck is no longer a recognised excuse; a man today must make his own.

Society’s seeming equality, coupled the media’s humiliating depictions of failure and the unrealistic models of perfection they present as successes, cause us to avoid failure so much, that we often also avoid taking the risks that are necessary to succeed.

If you read the biography of any successful person, you will soon discover that failure and risk are an intrinsic part of success. Moreover, it has been well documented by psychologists that there is a large correlation between how often a person fails and how likely they are to succeed.

The most successful sportspeople, scientists and artists have all failed more than their less-successful contemporaries. 

The lesson?

“Failure is an inescapable part of life and a critically important part of any successful life.  We learn to walk by falling, to talk by babbling, to shoot a basket by missing, and to color the inside of a square by scribbling outside the box.  Those who intensely fear failing end up falling short of their potential.  We either learn to fail or we fail to learn.”  – Tal Ben-Shahar, The Pursuit of Perfect 

Even Plato Had Self Doubt

We tend to think of highly successful celebrities as almost mythical super-humans composed of a separate genetic material than ourselves.

You could argue that the media heightens their extraordinariness to make them more captivating and glamorous. I believe that’s an element of it, but not the whole picture: I think we actually want celebrities to have an other-worldly quality to them, not just to make them more captivating, but so that we don’t suffer the envy that would otherwise occur if we thought their accomplishments were within reach.

It is no coincidence that we envy our slightly higher paid co-workers while we happily sit and admire the billionaire entrepreneurs streamed into our homes every night.

We only envy what we believe we are capable of achieving… but haven’t.

Bearing that in mind, it would be unwise of me to tell you ‘you have the power to achieve anything’. But it is worth recognising that the main difference between you and those perfect people you aspire to be like is, ironically, their ability to embrace imperfection,  endure suffering, persist against setbacks, stay poised in uncertainty, and override all self-doubt.

The Greeks called it hubris. It has been called sinful pride, which is, of course, a permanent human problem. The person who says to himself ‘yes I will be a great philosopher and I will rewrite Plato and do it better’ must sooner or later be struck down by his grandiosity, his arrogance and especially in his weaker moments will say to himself ‘who? Me?’ And think of it as a crazy fantasy or even fear it as a delusion. He compares his knowledge of his inner private self with all its weakness, vacillation and shortcomings with the bright shining perfect and faultless image he has of Plato. Then of course he’ll feel presumptuous and grandiose. (What he doesn’t realise is that Plato, introspecting, must have felt just the same way about himself but went ahead anyway, overriding his doubts about himself.) – Abraham Maslow

If you’re hoping to succeed without encountering failure, by implication, the only standard you are willing to accept from yourself is perfection. And if you haven’t realised yet, perfection is… not so perfect.

All Or Nothing Thinking

“The maxim “Nothing but perfection” may be spelled “Paralysis” – Winston Churchill

Perfectionists often wear their perfectionism like a badge of honour. ‘I’m a perfectionist and I accept nothing but the best. If I feel anxious and unhappy, so be it. It is the only road to success. No pain no gain.’

While we now know this not to be true, the perniciousness of perfectionism goes far beyond procrastination, time wasting and the failure to learn from failure.

Perfectionism, left unchecked, can spread throughout our lives like a virus causing us to impose imperfections upon things that, by nature’s standard, are just the way they should be. Here’re three extra examples of how perfectionism distorts our reality, beyond the realms of work:

1) Perfectionists are prone to disorders.

Perfectionists think in an ‘all or nothing attitude’: If they are not supermodels, they are ugly; if they are not slim, they are fat; if they are not the smartest, they are the stupidest; if they are not first, they are last; if they mess up one part, the whole is messed up; if they want to get fit, they run a marathon.

This attitude is obviously a terribly unhealthy one. Thinking in this binary manner will inevitably lead to self-sabotage, or worst yet a psychological disorder.

Psychologists have studied perfectionists and concluded that they are more at risk of developing eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia than the rest of us; If they eat one wrong food, they feel as though their whole diet is ruined, binge like no tomorrow, feel guilty for binging and binge some more to purge the guilt.

2) Perfectionists have bad relationships. 

If our world view proselytises anything less than perfect as abominable, we will assume others also share this belief and, as a result, become hypersensitive to any minor fault another may perceive in us.

Along with this hypersensitivity will come defensiveness: the antithesis of intimacy. For there can be no intimacy when there is defensiveness, because true emotional intimacy stems from the trust we place in others by making ourselves vulnerable, and imperfect in their company.

3) Perfectionists have low self-esteem. 

Nathaniel Brandon, the world’s leading authority on self-esteem, explained in his book The Six Pillars Of Self-Esteem,  that an essential component of self-esteem is the ability to be self-accepting. But, needless to say, how can a perfectionist ever be self-accepting if, to use the old cliche, ‘nobody is perfect?’

The problems with perfectionism are clear and disconcerting. But without a viable solution we are no better off than they are. Luckily, there is one.

Stanley Kubrick’s Perfectionism

Stanley Kubrick, one of history’s greatest film directors, after finishing Full Metal Jacket in 1987, immediately began searching for his next novel to adapt. In the typical Kubrick fashion, he began by voraciously reading everything in sight and even employed teams of researchers, to summarise, the books he didn’t have the time to read himself.

During this intense search, which he did prior to every film, the only sound his assistant, Leon Vitali, would hear from his office, for months on end, was ‘the thud of books hitting the floor.’

In 1990, hundreds of thuds later, his three-year search came to an end when he found the book Wartime LiesIts subject matter was dark and serious. It was based on the atrocities of World War II, and, in particular, the Holocaust.

Now the next stage of Kubrick’s research began: to learn everything humanly possible about World War II and the Holocaust.

Kubrick’s method for researching a film was simple. When discussing the research he did for his film Dr Stangelove, a satirical comedy about the cold war, he described his process as follows, ‘I stop reading when I can read new books on the subject and fail to learn anything new.’

If you are already familiar with Kubrick, examples of his obsessive attention to detail  should not surprise you. If you aren’t here are five more:

  1. He was famous for shooting excessive amount of takes. When filming The Shining, he broke the world record by shooting the same scene 148 times.
  2. He would often measure his film’s ads in newspapers and call them up if they did not have the exact dimensions (to the mm) for which he had paid.
  3. He wore the same boots as the astronauts on the set of 2001: A Space Odyssey so that the footprints on the moon would all be identical to one another.
  4. Concerned that his cats were over drinking, he called up his vet to find out how many millilitres there were in the average cat slurp. His vet didn’t know. Kubrick later phoned him back with the answer.
  5. Not being satisfied with the tightness of the lids on the boxes he used for storage, he designed his own and called up the local box manufacturers with the dimensions. His box is still in production.

If you haven’t realised yet, Kubrick was a massive perfectionist. And similar to the previous examples on the problems with perfectionism, Kubrick’s immersion into the depressing world of World War II, for Wartime Lies, had costs far and beyond the realm of work.

His wife Christiana, in Jon Ronson’s documentary Stanley Kubrick’s Boxes recalled that “this was a very dark time period for Stanley… he became depressed’ and would often ‘sit in the corner and sob.”

Unbeknownst to Kubrick, another filmmaker was working on a project with similar themes to Wartime Lies. During the last two years of Kubrick’s pre-production, ending in 1993, Steven Spielberg, researched, directed, edited, and released a film called Schindler’s List. It went on to win seven Academy Awards including the coveted Best Film and Best Director.

Needless to say, Kubrick immediately shut down production on Wartime Lies and didn’t release another film for a further six years, making it twelve years from his last.

The Lesson?

“Do not strive for perfection; strive for excellence.” – Click to Tweet

Stanley Kubrick was obsessive in his pursuit of perfection. And while his films are undeniably masterful*, he suffered the common perfectionist ailments: unhappiness and time wasting.

Steven Spielberg, meanwhile, strove not for perfection but excellence. He was happy to delegate roles, focus on the big picture, work within deadlines, leave the box making to the box makers, cat slurping to the cats and world records to the perfectionists.

The Messy Path To Success

Those who strive for excellence see failure as an opportunity to learn; understand the path to success is meandering; allocate time reasonably depending on the task; focus on the 20% that provide 80% of the results; view progress as a slow and gradual; understand that nothing worth doing is easy; view themselves as a constant working progress; enjoy the process as much as the outcome, and never neglect their wellbeing.

excellence-vs-perfectionism

The path to success is not straight, but meandering and messy.

Overcoming perfectionism is not straightforward and easy. Perfectionists will try to interpret the difference between perfectionism and excellence as binary. It is not; it is a continuum. No one is perfectly perfect or perfectly excellent.

Perfectionists, in trying to overcome their perfectionism will also often try to do so with the same rigid perfectionism that landed them in trouble to begin with. You must resist this paradoxical temptation and allow yourself to be human, even if it means, at certain moments, embracing your perfectionism.

I’ll now present to you, five further philosophies on success that you can refer to while you work. They will also help reinforce the benefits of striving for excellence.

A For Effort

From a young age, society conditions us to celebrate the destination instead of the journey. In school, we get an A for the exam result, not for the way we study for the exam. If you look at the typical school report you’ll often notice that the children with bad reports get condemned for ‘not trying hard enough, not putting in the effort, talking too much or failing to listen.’

When you look at a glowing report, you’ll often see children being praised for their ‘intelligence, talent, giftedness, and flair.’ Traits that are fixed and unlearnable. It is no wonder those ‘unintelligent, untalented, ungifted children, without flair’ find it difficult to muster up the effort, when what is expected of them is fixed and ultimately, unlearnable.

Strangely, the negatives of praising intelligence and other fixed traits are not restricted to those who, as it were, lack it. In a landmark series of experiments on American 5th graders, researchers Claudia Mueller and Carol Dweck found that kids behaved very differently depending on the kinds of praise they received:

Children who were praised for their intelligence tended to avoid challenges. Preferring instead, easy tasks. They were also more interested in their competitive standing–how they measured up relative to others–than they were in learning how to improve their future performance.

By contrast, children who were praised for their effort showed the opposite trend. They preferred tasks that were challenging– tasks they would learn from. And children praised for effort were more interested in learning new strategies for success than they were in finding out how other children had performed.

Furthermore, children who were praised for their abilities were:

• More likely to give up after a failure

• More likely to perform poorly after a failure

• More likely to misrepresent how well they did on a task

In summary:

  1. When the children were praised for their ability, it made them focus on looking good instead of learning.
  2. When the children were praised for their intelligence, they learned to view their failures as evidence of stupidity.

Those who strive for excellence, value effort over intelligence. 

Magnum Opus Technique

In 1973, Pablo Picasso, the most prolific artist of the 20th century, creator of an estimated 147,800 works of art, at the age of 92, shortly before his death, was interviewed by Michael Parkinson.

During the interview, Parkinson asked Picasso to sketch a quick portrait of him. Picasso spent the next two minutes happily doing so. Upon seeing the positive reaction from the audience Parkinson asked Picasso ‘Out of interest, how much would this sketch sell for?’

With a smirk, Picasso answered ‘Around six thousand pounds.’

‘Six thousand pounds! How can something so quick be worth so much?’

To which Picasso replied:

“Michael, this drawing did not take me two minutes, I’ve been working on it for over eighty years.” *

Picasso understood that when the artist works on his art, he also works on himself; that at the end of an artist’s life (or after it) we tend to view his work as inseparable from himself; that his life’s work and his life are one and the same.

“Painting is just another way of keeping a diary” – Pablo Picasso

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the poet, and philosopher had a similar approach to work. He set himself the goal of writing a Magnum Opus at the end of his life and everything up until then was just a rough draft.

“The first draft of anything is shit.” – Ernest Hemingway

He viewed every piece of work he did, up until his Magnum Opus, as practice; as a chance to refine his ideas and learn from his mistakes.

Coleridge, not surprisingly, never did complete his Magnum Opus. But his Magnum Opus helped him to complete other works, by allowing him to fail. Many of his ‘rough drafts’ are now considered masterpieces.

There’s an old self-help saying ‘what would you attempt to do, if you knew you could not fail?’

What would you attempt to do if everything up until your Magnum Opus, were just a rough draft?

Picasso’s Art Of Deduction

If you look at many master painters, from Picasso to Rembrandt, a trend you’ll sometimes notice is that early on in their careers, their paintings are what artists call tight (invisible brush strokes/photorealistic) but as they progress their paintings become loose (visible brush strokes/unrealistic).

“Art is the elimination of the unnecessary” – Pablo Picasso

It’s as if they have come to terms with the impossibility of replicating reality as it is and instead spend their time only highlighting  what they deem important about a particular scene. Their values about what good art is shifts from ‘the quality of a painting is determined by the elements included’ to ‘the quality of a painting is determined by the elements eliminated.’

The Realistic Painter
 
‘Completely true to nature!’ – what a lie:
How could nature ever be constrained to a picture?
The smallest bit of nature is infinite!
And so he paints what he likes about it.
And what does he like? He likes what he can paint!
 
– Friedrich Nietzsche

Whether you’re describing a scene, painting a portrait, expressing an idea or doing research for a film, you must surrender to the limitations of the form.

Striving for excellence, by definition, is the elimination of the unnecessary details that overburden perfectionists. You must surrender to the fact that in order to be successful at something, you must also be unsuccessful at something else. You cannot do it all.

Art is not like real life. In art we believe everything included is the result of the artist’s decision. If we watch a film and halfway through the main character dyes his hair, we need to know why. In life, people dye their hair all the time, and we don’t care.

“Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.” – Anton Chekhov

By trying to be all encompassing, by placing minor details next to major themes, you may dilute your message and give the unimportant a level of importance that is contrary to your intentions.

Learn from the masters. Eliminate the unnecessary.

Woody Allen + The Quantity Theory

“I get a good song for every 25 songs I write. So I’ve got to go through the process of writing 25 songs to get what I think is a good one.” – Gary Barlow

Woody Allen is a very different type of filmmaker to Stanley Kubrick, but no less revered as a genius.

His work output is astounding. Since he began writing, directing and often starring in his own films, he has released no less than one per year (46 at the time of writing). So far, he has been nominated for the Best Original Screenplay Academy Award sixteen times and has won three times.

He, like Coleridge, is also hoping to make his Masterpiece, his Magnum Opus, but believes that it’s more down to luck than excessive amounts of practice. He believes that if he keeps rolling the dice, eventually, he’ll win big. Incidentally, after a string of critical bombs, his 44th film, Midnight In Paris, turned out to be the highest grossing of his career.

‘I’ve been working on the quantity theory,’ he told Robert Weide in the 2011 HBO portrait Woody Allen: A Documentary.

‘I feel that if I keep making films and keep making them, every so often one will come out. And that’s exactly what happens.’

Allen is not recommending you start releasing mounds of garbage into the world. His career would never have lasted as long if he did that.

He still believes that every film he creates is high quality, but he understands that there are a million and one things that can happen between the initial idea and the finished product. Not only that, but audiences are also harder to predict than we might expect. Every year expensive Hollywood films, with teams of marketers, lose money. 

Think back to Picasso and his 147,800 pieces of art. Without ever seeing any, just from the quantity alone, it would be reasonable to infer that there is a masterpiece somewhere amongst them. Many aspiring artists focus entirely on the quality of their work and forget the element of luck that is often required to land a hit.

Many bestsellers were turned down by dozens of publishers, many scriptwriters have written dozens of scripts that will never be read, many artists have produced thousands of work that will never be seen. Michelangelo was known for burning the drawings that he didn’t like. Remember that people only remember the successes of successful people.

The more opportunities you take, the more chance you have of being lucky. 

Conclusion

You may have noticed, I’m not a big fan of step-by-step guides and rigid formulas for success. While they may feel empowering to read, what successful artist has ever achieved acclaim from such a guide?

I think it is better, instead, to learn from the processes of other successful artists because all successful artists at some point have done the same.

A caveat, however, that is often overlooked by people hoping to learn the processes of other successful artists is that at some point, those artists stopped looking to others and made up their own process. This is an essential step.

To be great, you must create your own process.

“Absorb what is useful, Discard what is not, Add what is uniquely your own” – Bruce Lee

The truth is, you may never be a bestselling author, a billionaire entrepreneur, a famous artist or a world-renowned filmmaker. The odds are stacked incredibly against you, even if you’re talented, and even if you have help from your family.

But the one thing you can take from all of these ideas, is that learning how to fail is not only the best insurance policy in case you never succeed, but also the best strategy, to ensure that you do.

It’s win/win.

Get failing.

* Steven Spielberg described Stanley Kubrick as ‘the best filmmaker who will ever live.’ I’m not in disagreement with this. His work is astonishing. I’m simply highlighting the (sometimes unnecessary) sacrifices perfectionism demands. You don’t have to be the best that will ever live at something, to be successful at it. 

* Validity of Picasso and Parkinson story is disputable. (The idea behind it, is not.)

Are you a perfectionist? Did this article help at all? Leave your comments below!

Meet the Creator

Jon Brooks

Jon Brooks is the author of ComfortPit and the co-creator of HighExistence and 30 Challenges to Enlightenment, the ultimate self-improvement obstacle course. He researches the practical ways art, science, psychology, technology, history, and philosophy can help us live more skillfully.

36 comments… add one
  • Tabitha Feb 18, 2014, 10:05 pm

    Hey, I just wanted to thank you for posting. I feel like you’re writing about me. This is me to a T. As well as the How to stop procrastinating article.

    I think perfectionism is the most destructive thing in my life. I eat a honey bun and, instead of thinking of a healthy dinner to combat those calories, I just completely give up, grab a pack of Oreo’s and decide to try again another day.

    I begin to write, but then after the first two paragraphs, I read them over and they’re complete crap, and I save the file, telling myself I’ll return to it when inspiration strikes.

    I make list upon list of things I want to get done, but keep falling short for one reason or another, almost as if I’m afraid to succeed. Because if I succeed, then I have to focus on bigger, scarier goals than cleaning my room and writing some literature. I have to admit that I want big things and actually put myself out there to try and get to them.

    Sorry for the book, I just wanted to let you know I really identify with your article, and they put into words something I haven’t quite been able to.

    • Jon Brooks Feb 20, 2014, 11:45 pm

      Thanks for being so open Tabitha, I also sometimes struggle with these things, that’s why I write about them. I’m really glad the article resonated with you.

      There are lots of studies showing that being hard on yourself (although normal) isn’t really the best strategy to do better next time. Psychologists call this “The What The Hell Effect”. I describe it here: http://comfortpit.com/motivation-to-lose-weight/#whatthehell

      The bigger scarier goals you’re referring too is also common amongst writers and artists. Some call these thoughts “Success Barriers” – if you did become a successful writer you life would absolutely change. And even though it may change for the better… any change is scary to some extent.

      I read a book recently called ‘Daily Rituals: How Artists Work’. Each small chapter gives a small insight into the routines of some of the best writers, artists and musicians who’ve ever lived.

      If you liked this article, I’m sure you’d enjoy that book! Check it out. 🙂

  • Anna Karen Jul 4, 2014, 8:04 am

    This was truly though provoking for my own habitual trench of procrastination. I’m petrified of failure, to the point I won’t even let a creative thought take hold before I’ve dissected it into worthlessness. I’ve struggled with cycles of debilitating depressions from a young age. Whether it be that I’m not intelligent, beautiful or creative enough to the point of perfection, there is no point to exist. I’ve come across more and more reading , just like this, that gives me hope that I can change, dare to fail and be a imperfect success. Thank you.

    • Jon Brooks Jul 4, 2014, 5:08 pm

      Absolutely. It’s impossible to live a well-lived life without experiencing failure on a regular basis. It’s not easy, and nobody wants to fail but by trying to constantly work at it, even if you fail now and then, you’re still winning. A great film I watched recently that really cemented this home is ‘Edge of Tommorow.’ Check it out if you can.

  • Yasmin J Oct 8, 2014, 1:11 pm

    I am a perfectionist currently suffering from a psychological disorder. This post was/is very very useful to me. Thanks a lot. I appreciate your effort of integrating all this useful data together. I fully relate to what you’re saying!!! “I just completely give up and decide to try another day”. Thanks a lot for sharing.

    • Jon Brooks Oct 20, 2014, 1:14 am

      Thanks for sharing Yasmin. I appreciate your kind words about the post. Perfectionism is a disorder that ruins more lives that many would have us believe. There is no instant cure, but we can all work slowly towards being more excellence focused in all aspects of our lives.

  • Yiying Cheng Dec 17, 2014, 3:43 am

    Although I have dragged myself out of perfectionism in many areas, this post inspire me in so many other ways. Just love it!

    • Jon Brooks Dec 17, 2014, 3:52 am

      Thanks Yiying! I’m so pleased it inspired you. Stay excellent 😉

  • Jeff McMahon Dec 28, 2014, 1:09 am

    With regard to the comments on Picasso, there is a wonderful quote from Ernest Lindgren in his book ‘The Art of Film” (1948) : ‘This is the first thing we are entitled to expect from any work of art, that it shall have unity, and be a thing complete in itself which we can appreciate for its own sake, every part falling into place to create a satisfying pattern unmarred by redundancies, irrelevances or omissions.”

    • Jon Brooks Jan 8, 2015, 6:10 pm

      Thanks Jeff, I love that quote. I’m going to add ‘The Art of Film’ to my reading list!

  • Karen Negrete Jan 30, 2015, 6:50 pm

    Thank you for the great post!! I’ve been struggling with perfectionism for years without knowing there was a word that went with the behavior. I had a huge light bulb moment when I read the part about praising the effort, not the ability. The critical committee that lives rent-free in my head always judges the outcome, and to quote Sarah McClachlan, there’s always some reason to feel not good enough. Argh. No doubt that upon completing making a dinner that didn’t live up to my rigid expectations, I’m going to have to get my brain in a headlock, pin it to the mat, and get it to begin embracing the idea that I made the effort to make something wonderful and that alone is the gift. Hope my brain doesn’t kick in in the butt when I turn my back. 🙂

  • Namaste Mar 13, 2015, 7:46 pm

    I’m a perfectionist. Over the years I’ve seen so many articles telling me why I should stop being a perfectionist. I’ve always rolled my eyes. This is the first time I’ve seen a way to still get all the benefits of being a perfectionist while getting to lose the downsides. I’ve been testing the excellence idea for a few weeks now and I’m finding it really works for me. My work is still exceptional but I don’t end of killing myself to complete it. THANK YOU!

    • Jon Brooks Mar 14, 2015, 7:35 pm

      Hey Namaste! That’s awesome! So glad these ideas have helped you. It’ll be a constant working progress, the key is not to worry about being perfectly excellent, just ‘striving’ towards excellence day by day is the most important concept. Thanks for dropping by!

    • Amber Mar 26, 2015, 7:19 pm

      Totally agree. Such a thoughtfully written article!

  • Amber Mar 26, 2015, 7:18 pm

    Hi! This is one of the best things I’ve ever read on perfectionism. So many helpful things to think about in trying to overcome it, vs. advice like “Just stop being so hard on yourself!” 🙂 Thanks for helping raise awareness about perfectionism too – I feel like it’s still largely understood as a humblebrag instead of the harmful, insidious thing it actually is. Also, love your blog.

    • Jon Brooks Mar 28, 2015, 7:54 pm

      Hey Amber, you have no idea how much inspiration and confidence your comment gives me. Thank you for taking the time to read the article and share your thoughts. I agree, the concept is largely understood and frequently thought of as a compliment. I still get a little buzz of validation when someone calls me a perfectionist, but all the evidence points to a better alternative, so that’s where I’m trying to get. 🙂

  • Elena Apr 17, 2015, 8:08 am

    Dear Jon, thank you! I saved your article to remind myself about turning failures to lessons and about all of these amazing facts and stories so beautifully put together for impact . Oh, I am not perfectionist. I am immigrant who started life from scratch at the age of 35 here in the US – new culture, language, profession, new everything the middle of life. I have a different complex – fear of being perceived as a second class citizen because I speak (and write) with the accent, and still don’t know some of the things specific to the culture of the US. I was pretty successful in my home country (Ukraine) and did well in the last 22 years here, in the US. Recently, I lost a job… and don’t look for a new one, because I am terrified of interviews – it’s a serious judgment and life-wide test, you know, and ‘what if I fail, OMG, I am not as fluent as others, my language doesn’t sound as polished, OMG’. Your article is a lot more useful than you may think. Thanks again!

    • Jon Brooks Apr 30, 2015, 1:56 am

      Hey Elena. Your comment means more to me than you may think. Thank you! Please, never fear failing. It is a necessary component of any successful life. You’re very brave, I am trying to empathise with your current situation and I know I would find it very difficult too. A good person to look at for inspiration is Arnold Schwarzenegger. He was an immigrant who was repeatedly told ‘No’ from the moment he set foot on US soil. But he persevered. Perhaps give his biography a read. 🙂

  • Erika Apr 28, 2015, 6:11 am

    Hi Jon,
    I rarely ever post comments online (to tell you the truth, I rarely ever post on social media or anything like that, because–and I hate to admit it–I want to make the “perfect post” every time!) but I decided this was such a worthwhile read that I needed to say something! I’m at a point in my life where I’m starting to see how limiting my perfectionism can be because of my “all or nothing thinking”–it’s so second nature to me that sometimes I don’t even realize I do it. But I like the idea of striving for excellence versus being “perfect”. Thanks for the well-written article. I’m going to print it out and read it during those times when I am far too hard on myself.

    • Jon Brooks Apr 30, 2015, 2:08 am

      Hey Erika, I don’t want to give extra fuel to your perfectionist tendencies, but that comment, as far as I’m concerned, was perfect. Thank you for reaching out. Yes, perfectionism is its most destructive when it’s unconscious. Just being aware of it, reduces its power. I encourage you to develop the habit of repeatedly asking yourself the question “Is it excellent?” until it becomes the new standard of quality. Even after researching and writing articles on perfectionism I still find myself falling prey to its promises of a perfect future. But then I stop and ask, “Is it excellent, and if not how long will I need to work on it until it is?” This grounds me and reinforces adds a time constraint. Perfectionism is the best you can do with the time that you have, if you can’t control your perfectionism, allocate a set time for your work and stick to it. 🙂

  • Bruce Robb Jun 2, 2015, 11:56 pm

    Hey Jon, great article. It helped me a lot today. I am going to try aiming for excellence. I will keep reading your blog, it’s looks good. And you have that touch of responding to people – very good.

    • Jon Brooks Jun 3, 2015, 2:06 am

      Hey Bruce, that’s awesome to hear. So please you resonated with it. Excellence is definitely the way forward. I appreciate the kind words about the blog, it’s a working progress, and hearing my research has made some kind of impact is a huge encouragement.

  • Ian Sep 19, 2015, 8:33 pm

    Hey Jon.

    Great article. Like one of the other commenter said, it’s almost as though it was written about me.

    I’ve never actually labelled myself a perfectionist. I think where it has manifested itself recently is when I’ve been creating online courses for sale.

    I love creating the ideas and concepts, and have no difficulty putting those into structures. In my mind, I see things so clearly, and it all makes sense.

    Its then when I sit down to start writing/recording that the gremlins kick in. Feelings of ‘its not good enough’, comprehensive enough, and people may feel cheated that I’ve charged them for it.

    I’ve always tried to work on the 80/20 rule, and know that even if I complete the work and then re-edit etc, it will never hit the 100% level…. But it’s still a barrier to overcome. And I think when you then see more examples of what others are doing (ie they look/sound better and more interesting etc) it can make it harder.

    Anyway, I shall try hard to strive for the excellence, as I know by “hoarding” stuff and waiting for the perfect product/moment/set-up etc will only continue the perfectionist cycle.

    Apologies for the long response, but in a strange way, simply admitting this to myself and writing it has been therapeutic!

    Thanks again for the great content and value you’re putting out there!

    • Jon Brooks Oct 17, 2015, 10:43 pm

      Hey Ian!

      What a lovely comment—love the length. Thanks for leaving your thoughts

      “Apologies for the long response, but in a strange way, simply admitting this to myself and writing it has been therapeutic!”

      I think you may have hinted at a solution to this problem… Journal. Journaling for yourself is a great way to practice being creative without adding the tension that comes with showing people the result.

  • Dorothy Oct 2, 2015, 9:49 pm

    I love your article, it’s one of the most insightful and enjoyable things to read about perfectionism in general. I don’t know when along the way it happened, but failure has become the biggest taboo in my life. I think it’s because failure will lead to embarrassment and shame from the others around me. For example, I won’t answer any question in class that I don’t absolutely know the answer to. I’m in high school right now, and it doesn’t really work to fail before succeeding because grades will drop and people will be angry. (And grades matter, from all that I’ve heard.) But still, I don’t even know why whenever I do something, I want it to the best – perfect. It’s really uncomfortable to me, when I look at something I did and it’s not perfect. I know in my mind that everywhere, it’s pretty much proven that it’s good to fail to succeed, but it doesn’t seem to register in my ‘heart.’ I’ve probably developed my severe social anxiety because of perfectionism. I also borderline panic about how my teachers will react if I ever forget to do an assignment or something of the like.
    It doesn’t even make sense to see how much I stress over failure. Though I read your article, I still don’t know how I should change. Then I just give up. I’m still as deathly afraid of doing badly in regards to anything and everything. Sigh. Sorry for the long ramblings, and thank you again.

    • Jon Brooks Oct 17, 2015, 11:02 pm

      Hey Dorothy.

      Thanks for the thought-provoking comment. You seem really smart for someone in high school. I’m noticing from your response a level of meta-judgement. You feel bad, and then you feel bad that you feel bad, and so on. You said, “I’ve probably developed my severe social anxiety because of perfectionism.” Yes, this is quite common. It’s quite hard to really like someone and “relax” around them if they’re constantly monitoring what they say and how they act. We bond by being vulnerable in the presence of others. Perfectionists don’t like to look vulnerable to anyone. The article I wrote can’t solve perfectionism; that comes with time and effort. The BIGGEST piece of advice I can give you, and this is something I do and wish I had started sooner, is to begin meditating. I wrote this article on the benefits. I recommend the Headspace app. If you make meditation a daily practice, you’ll see huge changes in your perfectionism and the way you relate to others. Wish you well, Dorothy. ~ JB

  • Sofia Apr 22, 2016, 4:52 pm

    Thank you for this post. I’m not a perfectionist but indeed, it’s very easy to forget that others struggled before they hit success. Movies and books always jump with a sentence “years later”, but we forget that those years were filled with struggle until the protagonist finaly got what he was working for… We are always expecting that moment, when we turn the page and everything starts working out, but it’s not like that… Those moments are always coming and going, just like being in an ocean, it will get rocky from time to time… Still doesn’t mean you won’t get to safe harbor someday. And when you do, you’ll have to go to sea again to get somewhere new and start all over.

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