Perfectly Imperfect: Overcoming Perfectionism One Day at a Time

“Perfectionism is not a quest for the best. It is a pursuit of the worst in ourselves, the part that tells us that nothing we do will ever be good enough.” — Julia Cameron

Several years ago, my friend made a quilt for her brother for Christmas. Because she is a novice sewer, she shared the following experience with me.  This particular quilt was a very simple, straightforward project. She cut old, meaningful t-shirts into 12” blocks, sewed them together, added backing/binding, and knotted it together with yarn. As she was assembling this well-intentioned gift, she was acutely aware of how flawed and imperfect it was when things did not line up perfectly. She got quite frustrated several times and thought about just bagging the whole “stupid” idea altogether, but then she kept hearing these words in her head: “Done is better than perfect.” So she finished. The result? He absolutely loved the blanket! Most times, we are the only ones to see our own weaknesses and imperfections because no one else is really looking; her brother was just gratefully blindsided to get a personalized gift…he was not worried about the stitch lengths or where she had to unpick serger seams! Her perfectionism almost prevented her from giving him something that he really appreciated. Let’s chat about how to work around perfectionism.

The guru of all gurus, Brené Brown, says the following about perfectionism:

“Perfectionism is not self-improvement. Perfectionism is, at its core, about trying to earn approval. Healthy striving is self-focused: How can I improve? Perfectionism is other-focused: What will they think? Perfectionism is a hustle.”

To paraphrase Brené Brown, perfectionism is basing our worth on others’ approval. There are several ways perfectionism manifests itself. The first is black-and-white thinking, where anything less than perfection is a failure. Some may even interpret needing help from others as weakness or failure. The second is catastrophic thinking, believing that making a mistake in front of our coworkers will lead to insurmountable humiliation. Third is probability overestimation, telling ourselves even though we spent hours preparing for a presentation, it is bound to fail or that the boss will think we are lazy if we take a couple of sick days. The fourth is “should statements”, when we tell ourselves we should never make mistakes, should never come across as nervous or anxious, should always be able to predict problems before they occur, etc etc. 

One might argue that perfectionism can motivate us to perform at a high level, deliver top-quality work, work well under pressure, etc etc. While that may be true for the short-term, it is absolutely not sustainable for the long-haul/every aspect of life. Perfectionism can make us feel depressed, frustrated, anxious, and even angry when we “fail” at one simple task and it bleeds into every other area of our lives.  In fact, perfectionism can actually cause unnecessary anxiety and hold us back! So how can we harness the few positives of our perfectionism while avoiding the negatives? 


  • Do recognize when perfectionism is ruling our lives. 
  • Do learn to recognize the point of diminishing returns when we’re working to complete something perfectly (like my friend’s quilt experience). Sometimes just getting it done is a worthy goal!
  • Do take a moment for self-compassion. When we recognize a moment of perfectionism, let’s catch/stop ourselves in what we are doing, note our good intentions, and then redirect ourselves from being perfectionists. I can almost guarantee that the world did not crumble when we were not perfect, so that gives us permission to chill out and stop being so hard on ourselves!
  • Do employ positive realistic statements. When my friend was working on her quilt, she kept reminding herself, “Done is better than perfect!” Other examples include, “Nobody is perfect!” “All I can do is my best!” “Making a mistake does not mean I am stupid or a failure. It only means that I am human like everyone else because humans make mistakes!” “It’s okay not to be pleasant all the time. Everyone has a bad day sometimes.” “It’s okay if some people don’t like me. No one is liked by everyone!”


  • Don’t mistake ruminating for problem solving. When our minds are twisting and turning over something silly and inconsequential, let’s aim to be decisive and move forward by making a decision.
  • Don’t let perfection be the end goal. Instead, let’s create a checklist that ensures we follow a process with measurable targets; this will allow us to find satisfaction in the journey and not just the outcome.
  • Don’t go at this alone. So many of us are also recovering perfectionists. Let’s lean on our trusted colleagues, friends, neighbors, family members and/or mentors for perspective and support. 

Perfectionism can be a poison that ruins anything (and anyone) it touches. Human beings are not meant to be perfect. We were created to try, to learn, to grow, to become. Let’s not let our perfectionistic tendencies get in the way of us making this year what we want it to be! Let’s catch ourselves when perfectionism is holding us back, and be okay with the simple act of trying. We can and will love ourselves more for learning and becoming than we will for being perfect…and that is a promise!

Melissa Cluff is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist based in North Texas, providing face-to-face and telehealth therapy options to clients in Texas.


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Melissa Cluff, MS, LMFT, CSAT

Melissa Cluff is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist based in North Texas, providing face-to-face and telehealth therapy options to clients in Texas.