The Downside to Perfection

One of our biggest misconceptions in life is that we must constantly strive for perfection.

Perfection of intellect. Perfection of body. Perfection of ability in work, school, interests… Perfection in life.

The problem with this constant striving of perfection is that it’s simply unattainable.

When we make our overall goal to perfect things that we are involved in, we begin to lose our ability to enjoy the process of learning and experiencing tasks, and instead, become overwhelmed and consumed by the fear of not obtaining perfection.

Now, the message here is not that we should go through life lackadaisically, without passion, or putting our best efforts forward- not at all. It is rather that we should have goals and ambitions, while simultaneously understanding that we don’t need to be perfect at what we do to enjoy what we are doing.

For example, if you love to cook but are too consumed with following every step in a recipe to a T, and you add just a little bit too much salt, or not enough pepper, or maybe your creation doesn’t look exactly as the recipe you were following was depicted- even if you DID follow the directions word for word, and letter for letter… you may feel as if your final product is a complete failure. What has happened here is that, because things did not go exactly as you had planned for them to go, you decided that they aren’t good enough.

But, just because things did not go as planned, doesn’t mean they didn’t turn out well. Maybe the food tastes even better this way, or maybe you enjoyed the experience more adding your own personal spin to the recipe, or maybe- just maybe, you could chalk it up to a learning experience.

Things don’t allows have to follow our precise and meticulously envisioned plans in order for them to turn out awesome. It is our job, not to perfect things, but to enjoy our experiences and take away from them what they have to offer.

When we become so obsessed with perfecting things, we can forget exactly what it was that brought us to love these things in the first place.

So many of our hobbies are our hobbies because they can feel therapeutic to us. Seeking perfection can take this cathartic aspect out of what we enjoy the most, and turn it into a chore instead.

This is just one example of how we can become consumed by the idea of perfection. I found an amazing article about trying to obtain perfection that I feel anyone would benefit from taking a  look at, titled Why Striving For Perfection Is Actually Holding You Back, by Jenn Hand.

Although I definitely encourage you to read the entire blog post, I would also like to include her 3 reminders for why trying to achieve perfection is holding you back:

1. Perfection isn’t attainable.

We try so hard to achieve an ideal in our lives that is next to impossible. There really is no perfect body, perfect job, or perfect life. It isn’t possible to have our lives be happy, joyous, and 100 percent problem free. Unexpected tragedies happen. Something doesn’t turn out as you hoped it would. Someone you love disappoints you.

When you understand that perfection isn’t actually something you can achieve and maintain forever, you can let go of the never-ending quest for your job, your body, your parenting skills, or your relationship to be perfect.

Letting go of this unattainable goal is a huge sigh of relief. We don’t have to try to be perfect, because it’s impossible anyway! Once we relax into the idea of letting go of perfection, life becomes easier, less stressful, and a lot more fun.

Perfection leaves little room for error and fun, and while life can sometimes be messy, it’s during these times where we learn and grow (and have some adventure along the way).

2. Perfection isn’t authentic.

When you’re always striving to be perfect, you miss out on showing the world who you truly are. Years ago, when I was in the throes of dieting and restriction, trying to be “perfect” in my eating and my body, I wasn’t being true to myself. I was hiding from the world, desperately trying to conceal what I thought were imperfections.

In the drive to be perfect, I never allowed myself to be vulnerable—to show up and let myself be seen. I thought when I’d reached perfection, I’d find approval and acceptance. But since the pursuit of perfection is an endless chase, the approval and acceptance never came.

It was only when I had the courage to drop my unattainable goals and bring my true self to the world, imperfections and all, when I began to find the inner acceptance I had wanted all along.

It was scary to show up as who I was without wearing a mask or pretending to be someone I was not. But I began making decisions for and from me.

I quit my job and traveled for a year without an agenda (giving up a well-paying, secure job in the process). I ended a relationship that was no longer serving me (letting go of a man who was also my best friend). I took Spanish classes, wore a bikini to the beach without a cover up, told friends I wasn’t into partying anymore, and began to speak up for what I wanted and what I thought.

It wasn’t easy or comfortable, but it was incredibly freeing. I felt vulnerable and naked, but as I began to express my honest opinion to others, voice what I needed or wanted, follow my own preferences instead of what was expected of me, and show more of who I was to the world without hiding, it got easier and easier.

Your imperfect self is enough. Allow yourself to show up in the world as you are. When we’ve demanded perfection from ourselves for years, it can be scary to let go of our ideal and let the world see us as we are. But this is where your true, authentic beauty resides. Not in perfection, but in bringing all of who you are to the world.

3. Perfection is stagnation.

No one is meant to be perfect in any area of life, whether it’s your body, relationships, personal growth, habits, or your career, because in a “perfect” world, everything is stagnant. There is no growth and no evolution. It is only through mistakes, missteps, and experimentation that we learn and grow. 

Looking back on my life, most of my decisions that seemed irrational or didn’t make sense in the traditional way ended up leading me to a path that was a perfect fit for what I needed and wanted. Life is funny that way.

I quit a stable job, but had incredible adventures traveling South America for a year. I left my hometown to move cross county without a plan, but ended up starting a business that is my true passion. I mistakenly got thrown into a role that I didn’t want at a job, but learned so much about fundraising and development that I ended up enjoying it.

These “mistakes” allowed me to see how perfection would have actually held me back. If I had followed the “perfect” path, the path without risk, without chance of failure, and the path that felt safe and easy, I never would have had these life-changing personal growth experiences.

Many people who are striving for perfection in their life path, wanting to plan it all out and have it go exactly how they think it should, end up missing out on some of life’s best surprises and most meaningful moments.

It is a refreshing way to view life. To allow ourselves to make mistakes is a relief, whether it’s messing up our food plan, getting into a fight with a family member, expressing emotions to a close friend and having it come out all wrong, or experimenting with a new hobby knowing you’ll likely mess up trying to master it. It’s these “mistakes” that allow us to incorporate feedback and chart a new course.

If we’re constantly striving for perfection, we end up missing out on the lessons we most need to learn. In the pursuit of being flawless, our eyes are always looking three steps ahead of where we are. And as we’re consistently living a few steps ahead, we end up missing out on life’s most precious moment: now.

Perfection isn’t meant to be something you achieve because it doesn’t actually exist. So the next time you find yourself striving to be a more “perfect” version of yourself, remember that the imperfect, flawed, vulnerable you is perfectly enough.


I found this article to be very inspirational and highly recommend anyone having self-doubts or unfair expectations for themselves and/or others, or know someone who struggles with a pursuit of perfection to take a second to really read and reflect on Jenn’s insight.


-Virginia Johnson

 Are you struggling with self-doubts, unfair expectations for themselves and/or others, or are you just interested in talking to someone about things going on in your life because you simply feel that you do not as you should? Sometimes having a partner in your journey can help. Give us a call  to set up a free phone consultation at Life Skills Resource Group Orlando at 407-355-7378, and one of our Orlando Individual Counselors, Orlando Life Coaches, Orlando Teen Counselors, and Orlando Child counselors would be more than happy to help you, a family member, or a friend work on changing your life.