How to Respect Yourself When You Aren’t Perfect

Perfection.

We desire it, we strive for it, and we crave being the person that delivers it. There’s a very good feeling attached to the words, “It’s perfect!” The closer we come to reaching that mark, the prouder we feel.

It’s the ultimate in personal satisfaction.

You can hear people promising perfection wherever you go. Here’s one: “Nothing leaves my desk until it’s perfect.” Someone else might admit (not too sheepishly) that, “I’m a bit of a perfectionist.” Some people stay up late at night, frantically editing and killing themselves mentally. “I can’t stop yet. It’s not perfect.

That’s the extreme, certainly, but the flip side is that it’s often too easy to toss off the saying, “Ah, well, no one’s perfect!” I’ve heard that excuse many times, and it’s often been used in conjunction with a cop-out for shoddy work or simple laziness.

I thought about perfection a great deal over the weekend. A client had been struggling over a specific choice of one specific word in a press release, asking me to change the word or sentence several times. Finally, I asked the client what he felt the issue might be.

“Well, I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so it has to be just right.”

I set down my pen, politely thanked him for his patronage and informed the client that the project is now complete and finished. I have my own rainbows to chase; I wasn’t about to start chasing his.

Perfection is an illusion. No one can ever reach it for one simple reason: human beings aren’t perfect. We’re fallible. We have faults. We can never hope to reach perfection without being perfect ourselves, and that’s fool’s gold right there.

Perfection is subjective. We all see the world in different ways, and anyone can criticize this flaw or that lack. There is no one rule that outlines the definition of perfection, and no judge can award it with utmost confidence while all people agree. What is perfect to one will always be imperfect to another.

Someone might sigh in pleasure and say, “This coffee is perfect. It’s delicious.” I might take a sip and spit it out. “Are you kidding me? This is water with a drop of coloring! Want perfect? I’ll show you perfect!”

My coffee could burn the metal of a spoon.

Whether you’ve set the perfection rule for yourself or for others who work for you, learn to soften them. Don’t be proud of being a perfectionist. Don’t make someone work to reach unattainable standards.

Perfectionism just set a person up for repeated, consistent failure. It’s unhealthy to consistently hear or say, “No, that’s not it,” in the hopes of reaching one single approval.

Try your best and push, yes, but know the limits and be ready to stop. When you can put the pen down and say, “Enough,” you’ve achieved more success than all your failed attempts have accomplished.

You’ve shown self-respect – and in my books, that’s far better than being perfect.

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

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  1. James,

    Mmhm. I want the right solution, not the perfect one. There’s a good chance of falling in love with the work and becoming blind to its flaws if you’re seeking perfection.

    Not that I ever let that happen to me.

    Nice post.

    Regards,

    Kelly

  2. Brett Legree says:

    To riff off Kelly’s answer a bit and to recall things I’ve learned so far in life, the perfect solution is often the one that works. Optimum sloppiness, as an old prof of mine used to say.

    Brett Legrees last blog post..the thing that should not be.

  3. When I get on the perfectionist wagon, I end up rewriting my work until it’s utter crap. A second draft is as far as go now. Perfect writing is too subjective to waste my time chasing it.

    @James, The perfect cup of coffee for you is very similar to jet fuel. Only the very brave or naive even attempt to drink your coffee. Harry must have a cast iron stomach and nerves of steel after working with you all this time.

  4. “Don’t make someone work to reach unattainable standards.”

    This is the most important point to me, and it goes beyond perfectionism. Don’t make your issues the issues of others.

  5. Bravo for setting down your pen and “chasing your own rainbows”. So many folks feel that they are not complete unless they can control every aspect of their lives.

    Personally, I’ve no room for that kind of rigidity. Flexibility is the key to not having a stroke at 50 because the world is not how you think it should be.

    And…

    Congrats are in order for the Top Ten Winner. Well deserved.

    George

    Tumblemooses last blog post..How to break the idea barrier

  6. When clients say they want endless changes and explain that they’re “perfectionist,” they almost always mean “You don’t sound exactly like me.” You were right to walk away from that guy.

    I recently had similar run ins with two clients; I wasn’t parroting them. One even protested, when I tried to help him improve the transcript of a recording he’d done, “but I can’t change these words, they’re from God!”

    Call this by its real name–an exercise in narcissism. With the growing popularity of online navel-gazing, it’s a trend that can only become more of a problem . . .

    Thanks for your good blog!

  7. I really like the title that you picked out for this. The title really fits, I think I’ll have to try that strategy if I ever run into a perfection oriented art client. So far I haven’t had any of them in my computer repair work, thankfully.

    I am a recovering perfectionist myself. My mom pointed me to an organization system that was on the news. Until I started reading her information I didn’t realize I was a perfectionist. The reason I didn’t know that I was a perfectionist, is the stereo type of them all being organized to the max. I was the opposite type. I was disorganized to the point of not being able to get much done at all. It seems odd, but I was frozen. If I couldn’t take the time to do it right (read perfect) I wouldn’t bother doing it at all.

    It’s a hard thing to recover from, as you feel like you’re going downhill for quite awhile. And truly you are, because your current standards are so high they’re unattainable. It’s good to go downhill sometimes, it means that you have room to grow, and learn how to do it all over again. Which is what I’ve had to do with getting rid of my perfectionism. I’ve had to learn how to think all over again. Each little bit of letting go, makes me feel better and better.

    And the organization system I was talking about at the beginning is at http://FLYlady.net. It’s good for any perfectionist, not just stay at home moms (which is what it looks like at first glance). I hope that anyone who thinks that they might be a perfectionist, or just disorganized, will take a look at it.

    And there goes my perfection again, I’m tinkering with this too much. *Clicks submit comment*

    Crystals last blog post..A Pile of Autum Memories.

  8. Great post James!

    I think you’ve touched on one of the areas where writers struggle the most. Perfectionism is both a blessing and a bane. Without deadlines, many of us would struggle to “perfect” the same words over and over again.

    As you rightly point out, though, at some point it must be done. Perfection, at least in this world, is an illusion.

    Laura Spencers last blog post..Of Note: Writing Fundamentals

  9. Michael Martine - Remarkablogger says:

    I had a similar experience, recently. I had to tell the client: “no more changes.” They decided to take their brand of perfectionism to someone else, and I’m perfectly fine with that.

    I think most people deal with false perfectionism: by never finishing something because it isn’t perfect, they will never submit/publish/launch whatever it is and so they will never succeed. “Perfect is the enemy of good,” as the old saying goes.

    Striving for quality and not accepting defeat or taking the easy way out is not perfectionism. That’s just high standards. Different thing altogether, as I see it, anyway.

  10. @ Michael – I agree. There’s a huge difference between taking pride in delivering high quality and going nuts trying to achieve perfection.

    Interesting point about how a perfectionist attitude can be a great excuse for inaction. Must muse on that…

    @ Laura – Heh, writers are the worst with this, I think. Our very job demands a keen eye so it’s easy to get looped into editing, re-editing and re-editing…

    @ Crystal – I hear you. It’s amazing what types of daily habits and problems we bring into our work. I’m a pack rat… guess how that translates to files, folders and emails? I’m also disorganized on a life level – and in work, I’m hyperorganized. Psychology is so much fun!

    @ Carey – Good point on sounding like the client. My experience brought me a different understanding. “It’s not perfect,” often translates to a client saying, “I am shit scared that someone will embarrass me, laugh at me, not notice me or call me a liar. Help me feel more confident, please.”

    @ Tumble – I have to watch out with chasing rainbows. Usually results in Harry looking up from a mass of project saying, “You had to go have a bright idea again, didn’t you?”

    @ Writer – YES! Step back and say, “Is this a ‘me’ thing or a ‘you’ thing or an ‘us’ thing?” Most of the time, ‘me’ is the answer.

    Then again, it’s all about me.

    @ Jamie – Harry doesn’t drink my coffee. It might kill him.

    @ Kelly – Mmhm. Suuurre you don’t. ;)

  11. As I was reading this post, I was thinking, “I hope he raises the point of perfection being subjective.” And you did! Even if you manage to achieve this unattainable goal of perfection in your eyes, you’ll show it to someone else and they’ll hate it.

    I agree with Michael; high standards are completely different from perfectionism.

    Well, off to edit all my 134 posts to fix any sentences ending with a preposition!

    Hunter Nuttalls last blog post..Win A Copy Of ProBlogger

  12. Brett Legree says:

    You should let me make you a cup of coffee some time then… ;)

  13. @ Brett – We could take bets on whose is stronger ;)

    @ Hunter – Ahh, preposition endings, the bane of my existence… sometimes, you just can’t avoid it! Glad I met your expectations on the subjective bit ;)

  14. Brett Legree says:

    @James,

    We need an impartial judge who is willing to try both brews – any takers out there?

  15. Wabi sabi. There’s richness in imperfection. Like the patina on an ancient bronze, or a line on a jade that may have been buried. Adds to the character of the art piece.

    There can be excellence in imperfection. In critiques, we learn to use this phrase “does it work?”

    Janice Cartiers last blog post..What Type Are You?

  16. Oh, Janice, I love you so much. Wabi sabi is one of my very favorite concepts.

    Having said that, I am slightly loony in the perfectionism department. I’m working on getting over it, but I ain’t there yet.

  17. Sonia,

    Mine too!

    Looney, but in a good way. Exacting maybe. ;-)

    Janice Cartiers last blog post..What Type Are You?

  18. Michael Martine - Remarkablogger says:

    Love the wabi sabi idea. So beautiful.

    Michael Martine – Remarkabloggers last blog post..Remarkablogger WordPress SEO Teleseminar – More Info

  19. What a wonderful discussion! Good enough is good enough. “Satisficing” (hybrid of satisfy and suffice) is choosing the first reasonable option to keep momentum.

    Letting go of perfectionist tendencies is hard, especially when one is so vested in them that inertia results from trying to provide for any eventuality, no matter how remote. Getting stuck and not even knowing that you’re spinning your wheels = out of it!

    Betsys last blog post..OUTSIDE, SEEING

  20. I think perfectionism is based on fear. Wrong place to start working from. (Ahh, the preposition ending!)

    Wabi sabi — I feel like I’ve gotta say something here. After all, I’m JAPANESE. Something about our long cultural heritage that values imperfection, imbalance, lack (breathing space) . . . Well . . . I think I need a good coffee to say something perfectly smart . . .

    Akemi “spiritual entrepreneur” @ Yes to Mes last blog post..Your Money Or Your Life

  21. @Hunter Come on in! We left the light on! Long live the prepositional endings and to heck with grammatical perfection for the day! We’re drinking a toast to jet fuel coffee, Harry’s cat, and all the other great joys in life.

    Cheers!

    Jamies last blog post..Character Development for Dummies

  22. I use perfectionism as a reason to not start things – if I can’t do it perfectly right away then I won’t bother doing it at all. An idiotic attitude, but it does allow me to be quite lazy. ;)

    In the Professional Organizing world, many clients (or would be clients) expect us to be perfect but then we explain that we’re Professional not Perfect. In organizing, perfection means “really easy to dissolve into chaos” because when one thing goes wrong, it all goes wrong and BAM! Humpty Dumpty is in thousands of pieces and no one can put him back together again…

    Alex Fayle | Someday Syndromes last blog post..Fearfully Moving Forward – Full Text Answers

  23. Congrats on being mentioned on Freelance Folder’s Freelance Inspiration: 10 Examples of Truly Exceptional Writing!

    http://freelancefolder.com/freelance-inspiration-10-examples-of-truly-exceptional-writing/

    Jamies last blog post..You Can Help a Desperate Writer!

  24. First of all, WHEN I am not perfect. Ah, well – you are too kind.
    I wake up imperfect.

    Harmonys last blog post..Who Is A Global Citizen?

  25. I used to be a perfectionist, and boy did I have a lot of perfectly unfinished projects.

    Why settle for perfection when you can get less?

  26. I’m all about not being perfect. Where is fun in perfection?

    Besides, when I slip towards that perfectionist mindset, I end up editing myself to death. It strips away all the character and passion from my work. A little revision goes a long way. :)

    Jamie Grove – How Not To Writes last blog post..How to Deal with Being Afraid of Your Writing

  27. Jamie, thanks for welcoming me in! Wait, I mean, in which thanks for welcoming me!

    Hunter Nuttalls last blog post..Win A Copy Of ProBlogger

  28. I find writing solipsistic drivel works well for me.

    Mantecanauts last blog post..A Matter of Life and Death and The Shipping Forecast.

  29. Good observation James. The perfection thing works in a couple of ways. People carry around an expectancy that what they do needs to be perfect, and their value of themselves is based on whether they deliver against that expectancy. As you say, as nobody’s perfect they never deliver against the expectancy and constantly feel like they’re sub-par.

    The other way is when people chase perfection in the hope of receiving praise and validation – it feels pretty good to hear someone say that something you did was perfect.

    Both of these are only going to lead to one place – I’m-going-to-be-constantly-disappointed-and-will-never-really-be-happy-because-I’m-chasing-something-that-isn’t-real-and-doesn’t-matter-ville. Catchy, huh?

  30. Steve,

    LOL! I know at lot of folks suffering in IGTBCDAWNRBHBICSTIRADM-ville. Good one.

    Regards,

    Kelly

    Kellys last blog post..Only One Candidate Can Give You Speaking Tips This Fresh!

  31. @ Steve – I’m so with you on the definition of self-value based on delivery of a product. That’s a killer right there, and so many people have that issue going on. Separating you from your work is crucial.

  32. Perfection is important, but not perfection itself. I think it is the pursuit of perfection and always trying to improve that is important.

    nicks last blog post..Personal Development for Smart People

  33. Thanks for the post. It’s hard for me to forgive myself when I make a writing mistake, especially when I’ve worked so hard to break into a certain market.

    But what’s not hard for me anymore is knowing when to say no. I once worked with a client who alternated in between telling me I had given a piece “too much personality” to “stripped it of all personality” on a twice-daily basis. It was just too much and we mutually agreed it wasn’t a good partnership. We left on good terms and I never looked back.

    Susans last blog post..What to Expect on a Press Trip

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