Confessions of a Perfectionist


The man with insight enough to admit his limitations comes nearest to perfection.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe



It came as a complete surprise when I realized that I was a perfectionist.  I had been told before, in jest, that I was a perfectionist.  But I always shook it off and said, “no way”.  I am far from perfect nor do I care to be perfect…or so I thought.  But perfectionism is not about being a perfect person, it is striving to be perfect.  That is the trap.


How can anyone live up to perfection? Oh you try, and try, and try.  But it is just like beating your head against a wall constantly.  One mistake and you go down a deep, dark hole….trying to claw your way back out exhausted and bruised.  And just when you do see the light of day, after working so hard at this perfection, you again make a mistake or someone points out your imperfection or you beat yourself up for not making it to perfection….and once again you slide back down depressed, broken and back to clawing your way up again.


IMG_9782And just when I think I have this trap beaten, and I have made it beyond the dark hole, I find I have only fooled myself into thinking I am OK with not being perfect….and down I go again.  Except this time procrastination shows up.


I have been a lifelong procrastinator…I just thought it was part of me…something I could not overcome.  Until recently I learned procrastination comes from fear.  OK so what have I been fearing for so long….yes you guessed it…..drum roll please….perfection was my fear.  So if I never try and only talk about the wish list, the hopes and dreams, then I can never fail.  Excuses and avoidance are then my mantra, instead of striving and thriving.


And what I realized was in this avoidance, I had put my life on hold.  So how to balance this striving with perfection…well that is what I am working on presently.  Just recognizing I have been in this dark hole has helped me to climb all the way out finally.  When I find myself slipping down again, I grab hold and plant my feet firmly on the ground like a root grabbing onto the firm earth.  Then I face the howling wind and hang on.


It is a choice to live or merely exist.  So these days, I am choosing to live.  A walk around the garden in my bare feet or sandals.  Watching the sunset.  Capturing in pictures every new bloom and critter that shows up in the garden.  Walking in the rain.  Listening to the birdsong in daytime and frogs at night.  Laying on the grass watching the clouds, and sitting outside in the quiet still darkness to gaze at the heaven’s and marvel at the stars.  Dancing and singing to music instead of whiling away the hours on mindless TV or the internet.  Making one new bold excursion to explore a space or place around my neighborhood.  Savoring the smells and flavors of new restaurant.  In all these things, I am thriving…. making time to play and revitalize, not so focused on the to do list anymore.


Note:   The Chrysanthemum pictured here represents perfection.  The Japanese see perfection in the orderly unfolding of the chrysanthemum’s petals.



Update 6 months later:

This post was originally published on June 3, 2014 in Vision and Verb.  This revelation about myself was a curious observation, and serendipitous.  It has served me well to not be so focused on the To Do list anymore.  One that has been instrumental in my healing time since retiring.


This is the last of my Vision and Verb posts that I am sharing here as the year comes to a close.  I hoped you enjoyed these special posts.  And I will moving into a new mantra and word for the year soon which will help focus my writing again.



I leave you with another thought about perfection.  Feel free to download the photo and share.



All original content is copyrighted and the sole property of Donna Donabella @ Living From Happiness, 2014.  Any reprints or use of content or photos is by permission only.


10 Replies to “Confessions of a Perfectionist”

  1. Donna, I can relate to your post, even though I really do not want to! As I get older I try to find a balance between making job lists otherwise I just forget and then there is muddle which becomes stressful and just being in the moment. I really like your line about Dancing and Singing rather than whiling time away. Before I said the wrong thing about Leonard Cohen I have just double checked and am amazed to find he was 80 this year, your quote of his is wonderful.

    1. I too have those To Do lists but not so much on them or I can toss them aside many times now that I am retired. My husband reminds me when I am doing too much or being too demanding of myself…it is my reminder to live more. The Cohen quote hit me hard and was so inspiring to me…it is a song that plays in my head almost daily…I can hear the melody of it and it makes me smile. I am so glad you could relate Julie…. 🙂

  2. I remember (so well) this post at Vision and Verb. And I remember wincing in rueful recognition. I am more than ready to accept other people for who they are, but still beat myself up trying to be more, better, different…
    A work in progress – and one I hope that we both get much better at.

    1. This was causing me to wince as well when I decided to repost it Soosie, but I am glad I did as it reminded me to keep treating myself kindly and not get so hung up on calendars and to do lists….hugs to you too my friend.

  3. Oh, I so relate, Donna! I manage to defeat perfectionism, too — right up to the moment where someone notices something wrong, and then I’m ashamed and trying to explain myself. Illness forced me long ago to let go of to-do lists, but that hasn’t been entirely a bad thing… One of my first college professors told me that I would never be able to write until I was willing to accept mediocrity — that I would always procrastinate until the deadline, when the time pressure forced me to write *anything* and not worry about whether it was good. And then it would probably be pretty good. He wasn’t entirely right, but he sure wasn’t entirely wrong!

    1. Interesting Stacy. I am not sure I agree with your professors assumptions about procrastination. Instead I firmly believe we are perfectionists, and the task of getting something done we are dreading has a message…for me it is usually I am avoiding because I don’t think I am up to the task or I need more time to process this….but out of my procrastination has always come an excellent job and then the stress of a deadline….which is why I try to not procrastinate too long anymore so I can mitigate the stress. But I listen now to the why in the procrastination and it helps me see what is going on below the surface.

  4. The trick to perceived perfection is not thinking about it. Good work is all that matters, and much of it will be perfection.

  5. I was saved from a lifetime of failure to be perfect by a psychotherapist I saw for several months when I was in my thirties. At my last therapy session, I said to the therapist, ‘Well, I’ve finally figured out that I’m never going to perfect Jean.’ Her eyebrows shot up into her hairline as she said, ‘That was certainly never one of my goals!’ ‘Ah,’ I said, “but you should know me well enough by now to know it was one of mine.’ The most powerful anti-perfectionism message was delivered to me during that period by a friend who told me, ‘You know, if you ever succeed in being as perfect as you want to be, you won’t have any friends because you will be insufferable.’ 😐

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