Three tips to help loosen the grip of perfectionism
Written by Erin Wiley, Bowling Green State ‘91
Do you ever find yourself procrastinating on a project that seems overwhelming? Worrying that you can’t do a good enough job, so you put off starting until the last minute, or just walk away from the challenge all together? Or maybe you’re on the opposite end of the spectrum: when faced with a challenge you spend a disproportionately inordinate amount of time making sure that it will meet the scrutiny of the most exacting critic? Either way, it’s possible you suffer from, at least a touch of, perfectionism: the belief that perfection can, and should be achieved at any cost. Perfection demands a high price, and since it requires meeting super-human standards, it’s a perpetually unattainable goal.
Everyone has some level of doubt when it comes to his or her self-worth. Being “good enough” is a fear that resonates deep within all of us, and is consequently a strong motivator of human behavior. When people question their self-worth, they seek ways to soothe themselves, to assure themselves of their worthiness. That can mean pursuing the approval of others in the forms of trophies, scholarships, job titles and promotions. Seeking the self-acceptance and praise of others ultimately leaves us empty and exhausted. And if achieving perfection is difficult, then maintaining the illusion of having reached perfection is even worse. It’s a hollow, lonely victory that can leave us fearing that others might knock us off our perch. Then suddenly all of life is a contest and those around us can seem like competitors trying to steal our thunder. The siren song of perfection tells us that we will only truly be worthy of love once we are good enough to deserve it. So, we try and earn it. But that’s not how real love works.
Here are three things you can do to help loosen the grip of perfectionism on your life so you can live in greater joy and peace:
1) Practice Authenticity: Admit the things at which you are not great. Accept those things and find peace in being able to let go of pretending to be better than others.
2) Spread Love: Take some of the energy you might have put into showing others how great your life is, and instead, throw some positivity their way. Compliment and applaud the success and achievement of those around you.
3) Extend Grace: Be generous in how you view others, and yourself. Choose to see imperfections not as character flaws, but as part of people’s humanity. Practice giving people the benefit of the doubt. It will help you be forgiving of others when they fall short of your expectations, and help you forgive yourself as well.
Rehearse these skills until they become habit, and you will find that the desire to attain perfection will lose its allure… and you will experience more authentic joy and real inner peace.
Erin Wiley, MA, LPCC, is a licensed clinical counselor at, and Executive Director of The Willow Center, a group counseling practice in Maumee, Ohio. She has shared messages as a guest speaker to groups throughout the US. Erin has taught students at Michigan State University, Davis College, and The University of Toledo. She is an on-air consultant for WTVG 13ABC Toledo. Her articles on mental and emotional health can be read in several magazines and business journals, as well as online at erinwileytherapy.com. She's been married for 20 amazing years to her husband, Michael, and has two teenage sons.