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Do You Really Need to Cure Your Perfectionism?

Perfectionism is only sometimes a problem. Advice for perfectionists and the people around them. Read More

A Refreshing Article!

How nice to read an article that does not loathe the art of perfection!

Unfortunately in the USA, it is now de rigeur to despise the perfectionist. and we are told by the chattering classes that we should "celebrate the mess".

Consider Switzerland, by contrast. They are a nation where perfectionism is a virtue, not a crime.
Swiss watches are not random assembled, and the trains actually adhere to schedules. They have money in the bank and peace.

Consider the relative trajectories of Switzerland vs. the USA; one continues on a path of peace, tranquility and prosperity; the other is imploding at a historic rate.

As my wife says, "Matt, if you don't TRY to do things perfectly, you will never do anything important."

I'll close with how Vince Lombardi always counseled his players, as related by his pupil Bart Starr.

"You must always struggle to reach perfection; that way, when you inevitably fail, you will likely be excellent."

Yes and No

I am of two minds about perfectionism. On the one hand I myself strive to do some things perfectly (things related to my job) and I sincerely hope that some on whom I depend for my health and safety feel the same way about their jobs: surgeons, airline pilots/traffic controllers, dentists, engineers who design and build bridges, etc.

On the other hand, I think major problems arise when perfectionism becomes pathological: particularly when one expects or demands "perfection" from loved ones / intimate relationships: the spouse and children.

I was literally tortured by my mother's perfectionism; she would have screaming rage fits if my younger Sister and I didn't do our chores to her exacting standards, if we didn't look "perfect", or behave "perfectly". Dad experienced her frustration over his "imperfections" as well, but for the most part nothing we kids did or said was good enough for our mother; she could always find something, some flawed minutiae she could criticize, shame, and humilate us for. We'd be subjected to caustic verbal abuse and sometimes terrifying physical abuse for failing to meet her unsustainable standards, to the point where my Sister developed substantial chunks of amnesia RE her childhood years, and I developed avoidant pd traits.

So, everything in moderation is healthier, sez I, even perfectionism.

Perfectionism Can be Approached Incorrectly.

Hello Annie,

I think your Mom approached perfectionism in an imperfect manner.

Someone who demands that others be perfect, is imperfect, a priori.

However, one who is perfect by gentle example is a model for all.

My wife practices perfectionism in a more perfect manner, in my view.

For eight years of courtship and marriage, she said nothing about my error rate.

Then, in November 2007, she told me very gently and lovingly, in a truly caring manner:

"You know Matt, you make more mistakes than I do and, because of that our goals are more difficult to achieve."

So I had the following thoughts to myself promptly thereafter.

1. Who's counting?
2. Not all mistakes are the same. Some are bigger than others, and
3. Are you sure?

But I said none of these things. I thanked her, because she is so wise and knows me better than anyone else, so maybe I DID make more mistakes than her.

Seven years later, in August 2013, I realized how truly correct she was.

And she was so gentle and patient throughout what was an ordeal for her.

For eight years she said nothing, then waited seven years for me to "get it".

Now we are much happier together, because I screw up less!

Yay!

Your "error rate", Matt?

All I can say is that you have a MUCH greater tolerance for your wife's perfectionism than I could ever have. If someone is actually counting how many mistakes I make, then I want to be as far away from that individual as possible. Holy freaking cow. That doesn't sound like a normal or healthy relationship of equals to me, at all. It sounds more like a parent/child relationship or a master/slave relationship. But, hey, if that works for the two of you, then to each his own.

I think that my mother's rigid, unhealthy obsessiveness and unrealistic expectations of achieving "perfection" actually qualified as a mental illness: obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (which oddly is not the same thing as obsessive compulsive disorder.) I think my mother had ocpd on top of her other personality disorders; she was a miserably unhappy person who felt that she was perfect and deserved to live in a perfect world, and it was our fault that we weren't trying hard enough to be perfect and "making" her unhappy. No, thanks. Not my cup of tea.

And We Lived Happily Ever After

Beth,

My wife and I are now much happier, living as equals, with lots of joking and merriment. All systems are go for an early retirement in the Caribbean.

Be well.

Ha! I told you Matt!

Your name is not Beth. It's Annie!

Yet another error that confuses things.

Ha ha.

The only truth is funny.

Since I tried to approach everything in life as a surgeon would, life is much funnier.

Sure I make mistakes. But they are less catastrophic and when I recover from them, I make fewer mistakes in those recoveries.

Life is good.

Go get some sunshine.

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Marty Nemko is a career and personal coach based in Oakland, Ca. and the author of 7 books. 
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