How to take action even though you’re a perfectionist

Perfectionism. It’s a chain I dragged behind me for many years.

Do you have to be perfect to be successful?I hear many people admit to being perfectionists as if it were a badge of honor. However, I’ve come to believe that, in reality, perfectionism is just an excuse for non-performance. If you refuse to do something unless you can do it perfectly, you’re going to end up sitting around doing a lot of nothing, since perfection is – pretty much by definition – unattainable.

As much as I find it hard to admit that good can come out of war, one good thing that did come from World War II is U.S. General George S. Patton’s observation that “a good plan…executed now is better than a perfect plan next week.” This is a great corollary to another favorite quote of mine by an unknown sage: “The Universe rewards action.”

If you feel you’ve been rewarded in the past for your perfectionism but are now ready to rip that damn albatross off your neck, here are some steps you can take.


Pay attention when people compliment you.

Since you’re probably the only crazy person who expects you to be perfect, listen to those around you who can more easily see all the work you do very well, even if it’s not perfect. Accept their compliments appreciatively.

Monitor yourself for the dreaded “yabbut.”

You know exactly what I’m talking about. If an outside party or you yourself comment on something you’ve done well, it’s all too easy to respond with, “Yeah, but….”, followed by all the reasons your efforts weren’t really good enough.

Stop it! The more you refuse to acknowledge your accomplishments, the more your confidence and willingness to try new things will suffer, the smaller your comfort zone will become, and the less joy you’ll have in life.

Did you get the job done? Were the clients pleased? Did the students learn? Then you did good work. Celebrate!

You can experience success or perfectionism, but not both.


If you’re worried about being abjectly humiliated by your less-than-perfect efforts, identify the level of work you need to produce in order to still be willing to show your face in public.

Seriously, now: When have you ever produced a result that was so horrible your only viable response was to hide your face in a dark corner? I’m guessing the answer is “never.” To paraphrase Dr. Susan Jeffers, author of Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, you’ve never faced anything you couldn’t handle; the fact that you’re still alive and kicking is proof of that. So even if you produce results that are merely “good”, and not the “perfect” you’d really prefer, you’re going to handle it just fine.

Remember that you probably hold yourself to a far higher standard than others do.

One of the problem with talented, high-achieving entrepreneurs is that they hold themselves to such high standards. While this definitely has an up side, the down side is that such people tend to poo-poo many of their efforts.

If that sounds like something you often do, you get to remember: Your “not my best” effort is likely to be exactly what someone else needs. If you serve them well with an imperfect response, you’ve still served them well. Let yourself enjoy it.


So what strategies and tools have you found useful in the fight against perfectionism? There are enough of us recovering perfectionists out there that we’ll be really grateful for any additional help we can get!

(By the way, thanks to Ben Sutherland for posting his image of Nadia Comaneci and the first-ever “perfect 10” scored in Olympic history.  I found it in the Creative Commons section of Flickr.)


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3 Responses to How to take action even though you’re a perfectionist

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