overcome-perfectionismPerfectionism can cause us to feel like we have failed even when we are doing just fine. Getting over perfectionism isn’t easy, but it is very freeing. When I understand I don’t have to be, nor could I ever be, perfect at anything, I am able to move toward my goals faster and with more satisfaction.

Michael Jordan is regarded by many people to be the greatest professional basketball player in history. Even among people who weren’t really fans, Mike is still regarded to be the best, or at least one of the best ever. According to www.nba.com, Jordan’s career field goal percentage was 49.7%. That’s a pretty great number. However, this still means he missed more than half the time! See if you can find a single person that would say Michael Jordan was a failure as a basketball player. Even having the thought is beyond ridiculous!

We never expected 100% field goal percentages from Michael Jordan. At the same time, we evaluate ourselves this way all the time. We have beliefs like, “If I didn’t do it perfectly, then I failed.” This perfectionistic idea is just as ludicrous for us to think about ourselves as it is to regard Michael Jordan a failure because of his slightly under 50% field goal percentage.

Perfectionism is a great way to feel like you have failed. It’s a great way to get and keep a negative opinion of yourself. For me to overcome perfectionism I have to first understand it is going to take some work. But it will lead me to feeling better about myself and actually achieving more in the long run. Perfectionism causes us to be bogged down in fear that we have missed something – even when we can’t identify what that something may be. Here are some things to consider to help you overcome perfectionism.

1. Why do things have to be perfect?

This is easy, right? Because if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing correctly. Add to that, correctly means perfect. However, look a little deeper. What is your motivation for perfection? Is it that you want to do the best job possible because the task deserves it? Is it that you want recognition from others for a job well-done? Is it that you get your self-worth from your ability to perform?

Answering this question honestly might be a little painful. There are probably a lot of motivations for making sure every i is dotted and every t is crossed. However, there may be other, more personal, reasons for making sure the dot on the i is exactly 1.1 millimeters above the stem in every place it occurs.

Obsessing over meaningless details will keep you in a state of panic about things that really don’t matter. It forces you to turn all of your effort toward things that have no impact. 

2. What does it really mean when things aren’t perfect?

The truth is, probably not much. The building I am sitting in is pretty nice. It has a brick exterior and a glass door. There are some bricks on the front that aren’t perfectly straight. What does it mean? A big, fat nothing. The building is fine with that imperfection that no one will notice in the first place.

You will never do everything perfectly. Most of us will never do anything perfectly. Nearly anything can be improved. However, there really is such a thing as “good enough.” This doesn’t mean we settle for poor quality. It means we accept that we are imperfect, just like everyone else, and move on. Imperfect doesn’t mean “failure” – it means “human.”

 3. How does my obsession with relatively meaningless details move me toward my goals?

There are critical details. There are significant details. Then there are meaningless details. Overcoming perfectionism means understanding that I will probably miss something. Obsessing over meaningless details will keep you in a state of panic about things that really don’t matter. It forces you to turn all of your effort toward things that have no impact. This will always keep you from moving toward your goals.

The truth is, once you do something – complete a project at work, cook dinner, mow the lawn, counsel a client, give a presentation – there will always be something you see to improve. That’s not a bad thing. It means you care about what you do and, in most cases, means you’re probably already good at it. If you did your best in the context you were in, celebrate that and move on. That is success – never failure.


Michael Jordan once said, “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” In terms of how you see success and failure, go ahead and Be Like Mike!


How has perfectionism impacted your life and your view of yourself? We would love to hear from you!