Seven Realities for Perfectionists

It’s guest post Monday! This post is written by Matt McMorris who is a pastor and blogger. You can read his blog about increasing leadership here. You can also connect with him through Facebook and Twitter. If you would like to have a post featured on my site then click here.

I’m a recovering perfectionist. I asked a few others if they wanted to have a regular meeting for the sake of helping each other recover, but we could not find the right time, place, agenda, room temperature, room set up, or group name. Oh well!

But I do know that perfectionism, while masked in looking like a good thing, can often turn into a serious problem; especially for leaders.

Leaders who deal with perfectionism often struggle in several areas:

  1. They frustrate their followers by focusing on the problems.
  2. They miss deadlines that cause ripple effects.
  3. They are aggravated because they are never satisfied.
  4. They are typically workaholics.

Perfectionism can negatively impact your work or ministry more than you realize. In an attempt to make things better, they often become worse.

If you disagree with me, you are probably a perfectionist. In fact, you probably not only disagree with me, but have concerns about the wording and layout of this post. Not quite right, is it?

Let’s consider seven realities prior to making a snap judgment about the “rightness” or “wrongness” of this post.

1. Only God was, is, or ever will be perfect.

This should be enough. Perfectionists have only fooled themselves into thinking that this is even a possibility. Only God can do things perfectly. We can do things well. We might even be able to do them better with more time, but “perfect” is too lofty for even the most gifted.

2. Good enough is not the same as your best.

A perfectionist will often say, “I just don’t think it is good enough.” That’s a wrong approach to take in critiquing your work. You will be far better off asking, “Is this my best?” At some point, it has to be. Your best won’t be perfect. Forgive yourself for that because it is impossible! Let yourself off the hook!

3. Deadlines must take priority.

It is imperative, in order to function in society, that you meet deadlines. Perfect or not – you have to have the project completed on time. Turn it in. Post it. Ship it. Whatever it is you need to do – do it on time every time! Keeping your word to finish on time is more important than changing non-essential information in your project.

4. Perfectionism typically only reveals itself in certain areas.

As a perfectionist, I realize that I typically only strive for perfection in certain areas. For example, I may want a blog post to be perfect, or a service flow, but I may let my relationships with certain people get out of line.

Think of it this way. Your boss needs a project by a certain time. It is basically finished on time, but it isn’t perfect. So you explain to him that it isn’t quite ready. He is frustrated because he was counting on it. You complain to your spouse that he gets so irritated over something as petty as a few extra hours needed to make it perfect.

Your relationship to your boss doesn’t matter to you, but the project does. Perfectionism is often a “pick and choose” thing.

5. Perfectionism is often more about pride than it is helping others.

Have you ever stopped to think about why you want it perfect? Usually it isn’t because changing those few things is the difference maker between career or ministry success and failure. It’s not usually going to be a deal breaker. We want it perfect because we care about what other people think about us!

6. Remember who you are ultimately doing it for.

Why do we work? Why do we create? Who are we trying to please in the first place?

As a believer, I must remind myself that I am to “do all to the glory of God.” He doesn’t expect perfection from me. He expects me to offer myself to Him as a vessel for His use. He will do with me and make of me whatever He wishes.

7. Perfectionism can limit your influence.

It’s hard to work with a perfectionist. They have to make all the decisions. They tend to be micro-managers.

Leading that way is a real turn off to most people. Helping your followers succeed and be the best they can be is for more important than seeing to it that every last anal detail is… perfect!

So, the next time you start working on that project, ask yourself a question, am I really going to let pride and insignificant details stand in the way of just good ole fashioned productivity?

Question: What are some other reasons why perfectionism is a problem?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • I think your last point is what I’ve experienced working for perfectionists in the past, Matt. The perfectionist is never satisfied with how you do the work and wants to make the decision of everything. To the point where they would do everything I did their own way. It was a very frustrating working relationship. Perfectionism also tends to stress out the perfectionist because they worry about everything – the big and the small.

    Are you going to tell us now how you’re fighting or overcoming perfectionism:) ?

    • I would tell you how I’m fighting it, but I haven’t found the perfect way just yet! :)

      Actually, my personal opinion is that you fight it first and foremost through humility and a proper view of God. When our identity is wrapped up in ourselves, then we will struggle with letting go of perfectionism. When we find it in God, then we simply do our best and find our joy and satisfaction in Him.

      Thanks for the comment!

  • I have one or two perfectionist who work under me and this post really helps me understand them better. Sometimes I
    succeed in helping them realize that something really is good enough, other times I don’t.

    I think another area were perfectionist struggle is with often feeling overwhelmed by their tasks and as a result rarely being willing to take on new tasks.

    I agree that they can be tough to work with but there are also times when I’m really glad they’re around because they catch mistakes in my own work that if they hadn’t caught would have made me look pretty stupid.

    • A perfectionist who recognizes it and can keep it in check can be extremely valuable!

  • I think I’ve become less a prefectionist, (oh shoot, a typo), as I get older. Here’s what I’ve found: When I was more of a perfectionist, I didn’t complete s many projects. As I’ve become less of a perfectionist, I complete more. The funny thing is this: completing more projects is what helps us to improve and become more competent at what we do.

    • Success is not always determined by whether or not the project(s) is completed perfectly, but that it was completed at all. There is too much to do to get caught up in making our ego’s happy. Thanks for commenting!

    • Haha – I liked the typo joke!

  • I think you hit on it when you equated it with pride. I think pride is the driving force that ultimately leads to failure… despite all the worldly success. That is the example of our world; successful people, broken, and having failed in life because it was all about them. A sure way to be unhappy.

    I’ve learned the lessons of perfectionism the hard way… It’s amazing to see how everyone excels when everyone works as a real team. That trait should be a mark of the church.

    • Exactly! The number one way to combat perfectionism is humility. Great comment!

  • I needed this post! Thanks so much for taking the time to write it. I am a recovering perfectionist in the area of writing and need all the help I can get. Thank you.

    • Perfectionists unite! :)

      • Haha, yes, we will unite under the Word of God and get that perfectionism out of our systems!

        • I stand up and say, I’m also a recovering perfectionists:) that felt good.

  • Without a doubt, it greatly affects our relationship with God as it robs Him of His glory. Great post Bro. Matt! Thanks for sharing!

  • Bernard Haynes

    I am a recovering perfectionist. I spent more time trying to get everything right that I never got anything done. I would burn myself out and put the project on eternal hold. Even now, I have to fight through perfectionism and just ‘ship’. I am getting up from the floor because the pride statement hit right between the eyes. Great post

    • Thanks, Bernard! It’s tough to recover from! Somehow we convince ourselves that it is actually a good thing, but in reality, it just isn’t.

    • I struggle with getting a post just right before publishing it. I want every sentence and word to flow and be correct before posting it. I’m learning to just ship and not waits a lot of time trying to make it perfect. Thanks for being open.

  • I’m guilty of being a perfectionist. God has peeled back layer after layer of this in my life over the past four years. It has been a long and painful process (eating crow is never easy) but I’m thankful He is breaking strongholds in my life that keep me from relying on Him and keep me receiving His blessings by trying to control things on my own.
    Next Monday I’m sharing a post about how God is breaking this addiction (as well as the addiction of worry) in my life.

    Number 4 made me chuckle. My spice rake is alphabetized but my filing cabinet isn’t. My clothes hang in the closet in a certain order but my books are stacked without rhyme or reason on the shelf (no one can see my closet but everyone can see my book shelves). Makes no sense to anyone but me :)

    • LOL! That’s funny! Your private life is actually where your “addiction” to perfectionism reveals itself. Thanks for the comment!

      • I hadn’t actually thought of it that way, but thanks for the insight! That actually speaks volumes to me. It’s good to have an outsiders perspective.

  • I’ve found two major issues with perfectionism.

    1. Perfectionism causes people not to start projects. They get worried that the project won’t go according to plan or that they’ll fail.

    or, along similar lines,

    2. Perfectionism causes people not to finish projects. Pretty much the same reasons apply here. People see the faults in a project and call it off because it won’t be “perfect.”

  • I got to admit this is one I struggle with as well but you make some valid points!

  • Matt love this post! I like what you say about perfectionism manifesting in certain areas. honestly i used to think that only high C’s or Melancholy personalities have perfectionist tendencies – so being a high choleric, I thought am pretty good. Till I realized that I have my areas too. and they are messy! Am a work in progress still but the revelation has helped me to be more balanced in my dealings and relationships with others.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Glad you enjoyed his post. Make sure to check out his blog, I know you will enjoy reading it.

      I think if we looked deep everyone deals with some form of procrastination. Thanks for sharing:)

    • Your welcome! I’m glad it was a help!

  • I used to place a high value on perfectionism, but over the last several years have realized there is nothing more detrimental to getting things done. If I waited for things to be perfect, I would have missed out on some great things.

    • I relate with you Tom. It’s something I still struggle with. Thanks for being open and honest.

    • If perfect never comes, than completion can’t come if we are waiting for perfect!

      Great thought, Tom!

  • I am going to respectfully disagree with you. Okay so now I’m defined as a projectionist but hear me out. I strive for perfection every day. I strive to be a better son, a better husband, a better brother of earth, a better boss, a better team member, a better boxer (novice), okay so you get the point. As I push to be better, I push to reach perfection. I will never reach that goal but perfection makes me want to be better, and the crazy part is is perfection isn’t unattainable. You see, perfection is my driving force and although I know I will never reach it, I strive to be better. It doesn’t limit me, it engages my internal thinking and pushes me, not in a crazy way of course. Some people can use perfection like a drug addict uses substance, I’m not talking about the addiction of perfection just using it as a motivator. Everyone is different and will use it in different ways.

    • Nate,

      I tend to agree with Tom and Dan below. I struggle with perfectionism as well. However, like Matt pointed out we really should be asking ourselves is this our best. I also understand your point of using perfection as a motivator. Since you acknowledge you cannot reach perfection then doesn’t the question become “Have I done my best?

      I think we are all on the same page here. Great post!

      • TJ,

        Your absolutely correct and I see the point Tom has made as well. The question “have I done my best” really makes you think deep. Good insight.

        • It sure does Nate. It’s something we should take time to think about every night. Did we do are best today?:)

    • Striving to be perfect, in my opinion, is different than being a perfectionist. That has become a cultural term that stands for one who is never satisfied and where there best is not enough.

      I believe I understand what you are trying to say here. In fact, I think we would actually be in agreement. We just choose to say it in two different ways.

      Thanks for commenting!

      • I see where your coming from Matt. Their’s a distinct difference when said that way. Either way, thank you for your post and the debatable topic that’s always interesting to talk about :-).

  • Great post! Although we can not ever reach perfection, I think it is important to strive for it. Being the best you can be is important.

    • I agree Brandon. Thanks for stopping by and sharing.

      • I don’t always get to comment because of my lack of time, but I do read all your posts. Thanks for the content you consistently publish!
        By the way, I’ve had computer problems recently, so that’s why I haven’t published any blogs. I’m working to resolve it, so I can get some back up.

        • I totally understand. I appreciate you reading and and commenting when you can. I have been wondering why you have not been posting, thanks for letting me know and I hope you get your computer fixed soon.

          • My computer is now fixed…it was a combination of that and school. I’m working really hard this semester because I have lots of chemistry and intern opportunities to complete. It takes up a lot of time.

            • Great!!! Looking forward to reading your posts when you have the time to post. Keep doing well in school.

  • This is big, I am not a perfectionist but my wife is and its ok. Actually its part of the reason I married her, and she knows we balance each other. In a Leadership position and being a perfectionist can be difficult but there are ways to get around it and it all starts with laying out the plan and basics for how your tasks are going to run. Great post!

    • That’s a great balance bro! great points, thank you for reading and sharing.

  • DS

    It’s interesting how this could be applied. Can you imagine being a child to a perfectionist? It’s not that standards have to be decreased, but if someone gives their all, and doesn’t meet our standard we should embrace grace. Then we can identify opportunities for the future and improvement without having destroyed what may have been a very worthy effort.

    • I would feel sorry for the child:) That is if the person was an extreme perfectionist. Great point about grace, effort and doing are best should not be over looked. Thanks for reading and sharing.

  • Sorry for the late reply, Dan – I’ve been recovering from surgery.
    Great post, Matt. I think #5 resonates with me the most. Perfectionism is all about protecting my ego and not wanting to take a risk on launching something that I feel isn’t perfect but yet could help so many people.

    • No problem. I hope you recover quickly. I was out sick yesterday so sorry for the late reply:)

      I totally agree, I know this has been a challenge for me. Trying to make sure everything is perfect before starting or launching something/a blog post. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  • Great points M.Mamora,

    Having pride is not necessarily a bad thing. Having goals with deadlines are so important if we want to see progress. Thank you for stopping by to read and comment.