The Prison of Perfectionism: Confessions from a “Reformed Perfectionist”

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The Prison of Perfectionism: Confessions from a “Reformed Perfectionist”

I recently read the book ‘Finish’ by Jon Acuff,  which lifts the lid on perfectionism. He reveals the lies and secret rules we buy in to, on the quest to being “perfect”. In fact, it can lead to us giving up on our goals, before we even start, because of our fear of failure. These revelations led me to share my own story about perfectionism:

“If you’re not going to do it properly, don’t do it all”

This was the lesson I learnt from my father at a very young age. I followed him around on weekends whilst he worked in the garage and “fixed things” around our house. I took on these values and indeed set out to do things “perfectly” in my life. Throughout my younger years I strove to be a perfectionist and in fact wore the title as a “badge of honour”.

There are many advantages to being a perfectionist. You:

  • Plan everything before you start
  • Spend hours, day, even weeks working out how to get your “perfect” outcome
  • Push yourself to complete everything you set out to do

It certainly helped me to get things done and constantly strive to do my best.

But at what cost?

The Dark Side of Perfectionism

It wasn’t until I was almost forty years old that I realized there were disadvantages, or indeed a “dark side” to perfectionism. It happened around the time I returned to work after the birth of my second child. I was juggling the demands of a business partnership, family commitments and life.

If there’s one thing for sure – having children busts the ‘myth’ of perfectionism.

In striving to be all things, a ‘perfect’ mother, wife, business owner and friend, I felt I wasn’t doing any of them well.

The Prison of Perfectionism

What I discovered about perfectionism is that it puts an unrelenting,  unreasonable pressure on you to achieve the unachievable as a human – “perfection”. It takes away your joy and spontaneity because you never try things you don’t think you can do. How crazy is that? It is actually a prison that keeps you locked in by an invisible set of rules that are not necessarily true.

Seeing the Light

When I finally saw the downside to perfectionism it was a huge relief to have this weight lifted from my shoulders. I felt freer and lighter. I realized I could embark on new pursuits, just for fun, without any expectations. If it didn’t work out – so what? What a revelation!


I like to say I am “reformed perfectionist” because it reminds me that there is no such thing as perfect or failure. Some of my most rewarding experiences have been from taking on a challenge in which I didn’t know every step I needed to take. The journey has been enjoyable, as I have learnt much more than being on a predetermined destination.

I will admit I lapse sometimes back to my old ways, but them I remind myself  “it’s okay because I’m not perfect!”

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