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The Problem with Perfect


I’ll never forget the early years of our first spa when I began doing interviews to hire a team of employees. It was momentous because it signified a certain measure of success, and it was challenging to be for the first time on the employer’s side of the table – especially when most of the interviewees were older than me. I quickly learned that it was never worth it to hire someone who wasn’t quite right with the hope they would change. As my interviewing skills developed, I started asking more questions such as, “What do you see as your biggest weakness when it comes to doing this job?” Can you guess what the most common answer was?

“I’m a perfectionist.”

I’m pretty sure this must be in the Cliff’s Notes for “How to Knock Their Socks Off in a Job Interview.”

For a long time, I thought this was sort of a garbage answer – a way for someone to appear that they had no faults. The worst case scenario they seemed to be presenting was that they’d care too much, or do too good of a job. It was especially questionable when I could see from their résumé that any English teacher would beg to differ on the perfect part.

But, I have come to see how true it is that perfectionism can be a genuine weakness – and not just at work. Perfectionism can cause major delays, anxiety, heartache, and relationship strain. Even if a perfectionist is able to deem a project completed, there’s endless possibility for further scrutiny. Almost always, there is no perfect. The vision of the perfectionist is tuned to see flaws.

When I was designing our first business cards for The Dragontree, I spent days agonizing over fonts, layout, wording, and colors. It consumed me. When I was done I thought it was perfect. Everything was just as it should be, never to be touched again.

Until I was staring at it a month later and decided it needed to be tweaked: a new font would be more perfect. A few months after that I decided the logo wasn’t right. Then the word spacing needed improvement. Finally, it was really perfect. Until I was shocked to discover that I hadn’t capitalized all the words that I thought should be capitalized. Upon further consideration, I decided that maybe it had a kinder, softer look if the words weren’t capitalized. Wait, no, it was better the previous way.


The first couple times we changed it I felt like my heart was being ripped out – I thought I made it perfect! Not only had I failed, but probably everyone who saw the cards in their imperfect state thought we were laughably unprofessional. It was painful to recognize that even after days of scrutiny, my creation wasn’t flawless. And the pain came specifically because I had so much of my self-worth wrapped up in an unattainable illusion called perfection.

We’ve changed that business card so much over the years that it doesn’t even resemble the first “perfect” card.  But I wouldn’t have known what needed to be tweaked without putting it out there and finding out.

Over the years, I saw how much more valuable qualities such as efficiency and positivity were to the success of my business. If I really wanted to succeed at shifting a million people’s consciousness toward peace, perfectionism was a major impediment. And this suddenly bled into the rest of my life as I realized that not only would my copy and my spa never be perfect, but also, my body would never be perfect, my house would never be perfect, and my parenting would never be perfect. And, guess what? I relaxed. I became one of those people whose consciousness was shifted toward peace. Things were light again, and fun, like when I was a kid, only better.

Instead of tormenting myself with the goal of perfect, I resolved to do my best, put it out there, and welcome the next evolution.

You’ll save yourself so much time, energy, and despair if you allow yourself to let things go, be human, and be perfectly imperfect – just like everyone else.  The amount you can accomplish when you are focused on striking a reasonable balance between efficiency and your best in this moment is astounding. If you are making sandwiches for homeless people but you’ll only hand out ones that are perfect, maybe you’ll give away five sandwiches instead of 100. You’ll do better work in the world as soon as you accept that a pretty good sandwich works just fine for a hungry belly.  

Do you find yourself in perfection paralysis?  What can you do this week to move past perfect and allow for evolution?



    1 comment

    Briana, thank you so much for your thoughts on perfectionism. I am in my "golden years " and can’t remember ever being any other way. This is a trait I would not wish on anyone as everything you say is true. I do not have that expectation of others, but II am always dissatisfied with my efforts. I’m trying to change a little bit but it is extremely difficult.

    Pam Martin
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