What’s Perfect About Perfectionism?

What’s Perfect About Perfectionism?

Perfectionism is wrongly named.

I say that because what perfectionists do is automatically focus on what is wrong. Show us anything, and we will seek out the flaws. No matter how minuscule, we are sure that they are there, and our subconscious radar is ahead of us, already trying to find them.

In the “perfectionist’s” world, nothing is ever perfect…especially oneself.

Perfectionists are often very busy people. We don’t focus on imperfections just to sit around and complain; we see imperfections so we can fix them. Making things perfect is the whole point. And since if even one thing is wrong, it’s all wrong (99% rule), we have no choice but to continue to seek out and fix every last flaw, which we then see as a basic flaw in ourselves.

So how can “perfectionism” be the right word for a worldview where nothing is ever perfect? See what I mean? As a perfectionist, I’ve even found a flaw in the name for it.

And in true perfectionist form, I’ve also come up with a way to “fix” that problem—from here on out, I will refer to that kind of perfectionism as imperfectionism” because as imperfectionists (or better yet, as mistake-spotters), at least we make sense!

If that brought a smile or just felt right, you’ve just separated perfectionism from imperfectionism, which is the first step in becoming a true perfectionist.

A true perfectionist finds the perfection in everything.

Finding the perfection in everything, especially yourself, feels good and right. And rather than kicking you into action in order to fix something, each little perfection you find helps you find more.

Because I love logic, making sense of things is my primary tool for finding the perfection in everything, including imperfectionism.

When you look for the perfection in imperfectionism, you will start to see that imperfectionism actually works well for what it’s designed to do—help you spot flaws and fix them. That makes you an expert problem solver.

Check to see if this is true for you. To become an expert problem solver, you’ve probably had to develop some impressive STRENGTHs like being keenly observant, detail-oriented, highly aware of others, self-motivated, capable, skilled at many things, etc. You probably also developed a high standard of excellence and an inner drive that just won’t quit.

And I’m not kidding when I say it just won’t quit, because by now, many, if not all, of those STRENGTHs and standards are probably completely automatic and effortless to the point that you couldn’t turn them off if you had to. You’ll know because you’ve probably tried.

You probably also know plenty of people who struggle to create excellence in their lives and just give up and settle for mediocrity, but not you. Excellence is just what you do.

Excellence is the gift and the perfection of imperfectionism.

Granted there are things about imperfectionism that will still seem imperfect to you like the associated stress and frustration. But once you start to see that perfection is actually present, too, the 99% rule of “if one thing’s wrong, it’s all wrong” will begin to crumble.

I know this is a big leap ahead, but imagine how much more calm and relaxed you would be if you started defining everything by its perfection instead of its imperfection (if one thing’s right, it’s all right). It would completely transform your experience of the world as it has mine.

That’s what’s possible when you deliberately start looking for the perfection in everything. I share more of my tools for doing that in What’s Perfect About Perfectionism – Part 2 and give you tips on how to respond to a perfectionist child in a way that truly helps in How To Help A Perfectionist Child.


  1. Chrissy |

    Good advice! Challenge accepted!

  2. Thanks so much for taking time to write about this. I know this problem is quite pervasive, especially among women – myself especially.
    When you talk about finding the perfect in the imperfect, it helps me to also use words like ‘re-framing’ and ‘finding another perspective from which to look.’ I am learning that there are always at least two ways to look at a situation, usually even more.

  3. Sue, thank you for bringing up those phrases. They are extremely valuable when you understand that the perfection is really already there, and you just can’t see it. That tells me you are already a true perfectionist!

    Before that when you are stuck in imperfectionism and it seems like imperfection is all there is (99% rule), the phrases “re-framing” or “finding another perspective,” can sound pointless because you are sure that all that’s there is imperfection, no matter how you look at it. “Finding the perfection” is my attempt to shake imperfectionism loose by saying the perfection is real, already there, and can actually be found.

    Once you’ve had a breakthrough in thinking, the phrases “re-framing” and “finding another perspective” become extremely valuable, as does discovering that there are indeed at least two ways to look at any situation, usually more!

    Thank you for taking this deeper!

  4. Sandy
    Amazing post, thank you.
    I am anxious and a perfectionist. I am hyper motivated – it needs to “be” right for me to “feel” right.
    What I have learned in my career is to respect the traits of others by not immediately finding the wrong. Particularly with business development folks – they need to feel my excitement for it to feel right for them. I wait at least a day before I look for how I can make sure what they told the customer can actually happen, they deserve to feel good to.

    For anyone who cares – I am proud of my traits, I preach it to my direct reports that may have similar traits – to look at who they are as a strength – these “conditions” that others may judge have made me wildly successful in my work and without them I would likely not have been as driven.

    My personal life not so much until my son was born 12 years ago – he taught me imperfection (dirty house etc) was ok because my time with him was perfect.

    Sorry for the long reply – this just struck such a chord for me.
    thanks again

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