Why Overcome Perfectionism?

Are you always striving hard to do your very best? Clearly, your doing so can in many ways benefit you and those around you. On the other hand, some have carried matters to an extreme and have become perfectionists. What does that imply?

WELL, one meaning of the word “perfectionism” is “a disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable.” You have likely encountered people having that disposition. You can see that the extreme demands that they place on others can cause many problems, creating a climate of dissatisfaction and discouragement. Most balanced people recognize that perfectionism in the sense of extreme and unreasonable demands in all matters of life is not truly desirable. It is something to be overcome. A problem, however, is that when it comes to our own attitude or disposition, it may be difficult to recognize a tendency toward such perfectionism, so it is a challenge to overcome it.

Nelson has a great deal of responsibility and many problems to solve. He regularly analyzes statistics, and production is a priority. Perfectionism is often seen as necessary for success in a competitive job market. Although some may appreciate Nelson’s efficiency, his perfectionism causes him physical problems, such as headaches and stress. Do you identify with Nelson?

Young people are also affected by perfectionism. As a child, Rita, from Rio de Janeiro, liked going to school. She tried not to appear ambitious, yet she was devastated if she did not get top marks. Rita says: “From childhood, I compared myself with others who had plenty of time, while I was always stressed and rushing to do things. I never felt that I had time to rest because there were always things that had to be done.”

 As a little girl, Maria would cry in frustration when she could not draw as well as others did. Further, in her search for artistic perfection in music, she often became stressed and worried instead of enjoying her playing or singing. Another Brazilian girl, Tânia, who tried to be discreet and avoid competition, admitted that she still set standards for herself that were too high, both in school and at home. She felt that unless her work was perfect, people would not like her very much. Moreover, Tânia at times expected too much of others, which made her feel disappointed and sad.

Although competence, diligence, and a sense of personal satisfaction are important, negative feelings, such as fear of failure, may result from setting unreachable goals. Parents or others may set a standard of perfection in schoolwork or in sports that young people find hard to live up to. For example, Ricardo’s mother had high expectations for him, wanting him to become a doctor, play the piano, and speak several languages. Can you see that this approach, carried too far, invites problems or disappointments?

Why Avoid Perfectionism?

Work of superior quality, meeting high standards of precision and excellence, is in demand. So people must compete in the job market. Another factor causing many to strive harder and harder is fear of losing one’s means of sustenance. Some workers become like the athlete who makes extreme sacrifices to set a new record. Then, when faced with tough competition, he may feel driven to train even more, perhaps using chemical substances to improve and​—he hopes—​to win. Replacing a healthy pursuit of excellence, perfectionism causes people to be “motivated by the fear of failure” or “driven to be number one.”​—The Feeling Good Handbook.

Admittedly, some feel that what they may do in the arts or in sports can always be improved. Still, according to Dr. Robert S. Eliot, “perfectionism is expectation that never meets reality.” He adds: “It is comprised of guilt, defensiveness, and the fear of ridicule.” Hence, how true are the words of wise King Solomon: “I myself have seen all the hard work and all the proficiency in work, that it means the rivalry of one toward another; this also is vanity and a striving after the wind.”​—Ecclesiastes 4:4.

What can you do if you tend to be a perfectionist? Is it true that the harder you strive, the more disappointed you get? Would you like to be less demanding and more relaxed? What does it mean to be perfect? Do you not yearn to use your fullest potential while avoiding perfectionism? If imperfect humans can use their God-given abilities to discover things for the benefit of others, imagine what mankind could achieve under perfect conditions and divine guidance!

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Parents or others may require perfection, which young ones cannot achieve