What Do You Think: When Does Perfectionism Work for You / Get in Your Way?

Updated on February 08, 2012
E.D. asks from Olympia, WA
8 answers

Often, when I hear references to perfectionism, it is in negative light. I grew up in a perfectionist household, though I think we called it work ethic and ambition. I am a perfectionist (you wouldn't be able to tell from my house!!) and I can see ways that this has been useful and ways that it has really hindered my progress.

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So What Happened?

This is helpful to read all ready. Thank you all for putting forth your perspective, I'm learning from it!

Looking forward to the rest as well!

More Answers



answers from Colorado Springs on

There's a huge difference between excellence and perfectionism. Much of the difference, I believe, is that "ism" at the end of "perfect."

Ambition is good when it leads you to be interested in life and when it makes you want to set goals to work toward. As the old saying goes, ambition is a poor master but a good servant.

"Perfect" can be an ideal to aim for (i.e., 100% on a math test).

Excellence - if it means doing the best job you can do today - is always something to aim for. If I put in my best effort today, that's excellent. I can try for that tomorrow, too.

A good work ethic means learning to work *at* something and *for* something with energy and integrity. And in itself, it is a good thing.

Perfection-ism is the idea that what I do must be free from mistakes, free from the possibility of criticism by others - and if I don't attain that, my work and I are worthless. This is not good.

Perfectionism, I've found, holds me back because I'll think, "I don't have the time/ability/incentive to clean my house perfectly, so I may as well not do it at all." Or, "I'm not ever going to play the guitar like a professional, so why try to learn?" Or, sadly, "What's the matter with that boy of mine? Can't he do anything right?"

Perfectionism, I found, made me too protective of myself. Anyone could be a threat to my being the best. Even a close friend might turn out to be better, and then I would be "not good enough."

It's taken me quite a while to ditch the "ism" and be happy with excellence - doing the best I (or someone else) can do today. And if it isn't mistake-free, guess what? I don't die!

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Columbia on

Perfectionism is not a synonym for 'work ethic' or 'ambition'.

Work ethic is supporting your family. Ambition is wanting to find a better way to support your family. (note this works for us SAHP)

Perfectionism is an obsession with a theoretical high standard of performance that is not humanly possible.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

I think "perfectionism" inhibits creativity. I have no scientific basis on this, just personal experience. The people who I've known to be the biggest perfectionists, had the least ability to be creative. Like I said, I have no idea if there is evidence supporting that theory, It's simply played out that way in my life.

I am not a perfectionist. I'm very willing to fail, in some way. I wouldn't consider myself the opposite of a perfectionist, because I have work ethic and I do things to the best of my ability. I guess, I would rather strive for an experience, rather then excellence. I pursue things, because I love them...and not in order to achieve something. I don't care about achievement. I find "perfection" and the striving for it, very boring. I think people lose out a lot in life, trying to be perfect. (Again, just from the personal things and people I've experienced. I'm not saying anything about the people on mamapedia.) I'm not even sure that makes sense, except to me. I guess I could say not being a perfectionist has helped me, far more then it's harmed me.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from St. Louis on

I am a perfectionist in that I always strive for perfection. I just don't get wrapped up in failing to be perfect since no one can actually do everything perfectly, ya know?

So if I shoot for perfect I figure worst case I come up better than average and I can live with that. I also see nothing negative in this.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

When I was younger I would work on homework assignments and if I couldn't finish or didn't know how to work some of the problems I'd get pissed I couldn't turn in perfect work and crumple the paper and just not turn it in at all. That was a hindrance. However, if I'm working on a coding or art project, perfectionism helps keep the code from failing or the sculpture from looking like a lumpy mess.

After I became a mom, I've found that "perfect" is getting out the door on time with most of our clothing on and that's just fine with me.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Kansas City on

i have never considered myself a "perfectionist" (and yes, my house agrees!!) i don't stress about housework, never worried about looking perfect or acting perfect (because i always knew that was impossible, for me lol) but as i have grown into my professional life and done well, i sometimes look at the job i do at work and i think, "okay now i'm just being anal trying to be perfect." i am very black/white at work, and i expect things to be done right, not half-assed. i feel that my "perfectionism" at work has been a very big blessing. i have made enemies at work (not dozens, just a few here and there) because i don't bend the rules for "friends". but everyone else who i work with considers me capable, trustworthy, and honest. which i am. i also work my butt off and when i do something, i do it right. and i expect the same from my team. in that aspect, i think perfectionism is a positive and can be very beneficial. but even in that situation, i try to make sure i have personal relationships with people, am friendly and nice to them, so that i don't just alienate everyone. so i think there is a time and place for perfectionism, but like everything, in moderation.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Houston on

I am a self-confessed perfectionist. Over the years I have learned to adjust my standards from stratospheric to reasonable, though. College and a professional career have a funny way of knocking the stuffing out of unreasonable expectations in my opinion.

I have married a perfectionist in denial. At home we have a tidy home. You wouldn't want to eat off our floors or anything ridiculous but for the most part our home is cleaner than most simply because we couldn't tolerate less. At work we are drivers. I have never defined myself by my work but with my son I find myself focusing on a job done exceedingly well instead of getting wrapped up in the nebulous far off. What I get done in 8 hours I hope stands as a testament to a well thought out approach and execution. I do get more work than my peers and the standards I am held to are higher. My bosses have never cut me any slack which I believe is a price you pay for perfectionist tendencies.

As a side note if I was less picky at work, people could get hurt which tends to make me more aware and vigilant so my perfectionist side is well suited to my job. I have to keep a lot of details up in the air at once, working all the pieces in tandem and harmony. The only failed job I did was a hand off project when I went on maternity leave. I didn't make it abundantly clear the design was only partially sketched and every detail needed to be double checked. My first day back greeted that design failing spectacularly on the shop floor. I have yet to hear the end of that mistake I might add. As a reminder, I put the failed part on my desk and I take all the blame for the mistake even though arguably it took two of us to screw it up. It is best to reach for the sky than to fall short and have something go catastrophically wrong.



answers from Portland on

When perfectionism motivates you to do a good job, it's a good thing. If it keeps you from doing something because you are afraid it won't be done perfectly, then it is a bad thing. I would recommend checking out Flylady.net. She has some definite opinions on perfectionism, as well as ways to make the house look nice without killing yourself. Thanks to her, my kitchen actually looks nice, and even though I was too tired to finish the laundry today, I'm not beating myself up about it. I've learned that spending 15 minutes working on something (like decluttering and packing stuff I've avoided for months) makes it easy, and that it won't take nearly as long once I get started.

So yes, if your house belies the fact that you are a perfectionist, I highly recommend Flylady.net! She is exactly what you need!

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