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The Perfect Imperfection of Perfectionism

Show Perfectionism The Door

I went to the Petrol Station this morning to put £40 in the tank. The pump nozzle went into the car and I looked over at the gauge and I thought "Right, this time I am going to get it bang on £40. Not £39.96, not £40.02 but £40.00."

As the digits flick up to £39.00, I slow down and start pulsing on the handle. £39.45. Another tiny little squeeze. £39.57. Squeeeeeeze. £39.74.


I breathe deeply to psych myself up and adjust my grip on the handle.

Here we go.

Little squeeze more.

Tiny bit more...and...


My face squints and at this point the Western music starts to play in my head. A toothpick appears in my mouth, as I stare into the steely eyes of Petrol Pump Number 8. This last pulse is the final showdown. Who will win? Me or Pump. One fast, staccato squeeze and....


Are. You. Having. Me. On?

The disappointment on my face will have been evident to anyone on the forecourt at that point and if that hadn't caught their attention, me slamming the hose back in its holster, hoping to hurt the Pump a little bit, will have.

A Perfectionist's Nightmare
Man versus Pump

As I walk (stomp) to the kiosk to pay, I think to myself, "Why have I just played that game?" I am genuinely disappointed and more than a little bit annoyed. I ask the man behind the counter as I pay if anyone ever gets it bang on the zeros and he says about 20% of people do. (Quite surprised by his confident statistic. Perhaps he, too, plays the Zero Zero game?) That means there are possibly 80% of people out there who feel this same sense of disappointment, daily. (That stat is probably a bit lower, as I am sure at least 3% of very strange people don't actually care if it lands on a nice round zero zero figure.)

Perfectionism has hung around me for most of my adult life in varying degrees. I value my need for order and organisation, it helps me get things done and done well. It motivates me. I enjoy things having set homes (toothbrushes on the left side of shelf, please) and feel all fizzy with excitement at the opening of a brand new notebook, totally unmarked, totally perfect. However, Perfectionism can outstay it's welcome with me, for example, when I am trying to get a piece of work finished and I check it and re-check it and check it again, convinced that I have made mistakes or that I could do better. (This is me every time I use Canva or write my Blog!) It can be all consuming and, at times, debilitating.

Perfectionism has caused real anxiety and overwhelm and I now am fully aware of the importance of checking in with myself to ensure that the standards I set for myself are reasonable and achievable.

If we set ourselves too high a bar, we will never reach it (and sometimes never even try to reach it for fear of failure). This 'never good enough' mindset can make it tough to feel good about anything we do, even when we've done a great job.

Now, I allow Perfectionism to drop by, offer it a cup of tea, and then at the first whiff of it getting comfortable and suggesting that it might want a sleepover, I send it on it's merry way. Otherwise, it follows me around the house, telling me all of it's juicy, perfect advice on how perfect everything could be, like... "Are you going to sit down and relax before you sort out your sock drawer? It is a mess! Make that perfect and then you can relax." Or, "Why don't you re-write your whole Blog but just do it even more perfectly, yeah?" Or, "How about you spend your valuable time decanting that bag of flour into a nice jar? - that would look perfect and save you loads of time when baking, wouldn't it?" Okay, okay, time for Perfectionism to do one. I can't win your pesky games, Perfectionism. The sock drawer will never be perfect, the Blog will always have room for improvement and the flour jar...well, actually...I quite like that one, thanks.

If Perfectionism is outstaying its welcome for you, here are three things you could do to show them the door.

  1. Celebrate Success. Instead of obsessing over the things that didn't go right, focus on the things that did. Highlight the strengths of your actions and perfectionism will skulk off.

  2. Flip It. If you have made a mistake, accept it and reframe it as a learning opportunity. There is nothing that Perfectionism hates more than a positive reframe.

  3. Set Limits. "I will only work on Canva for 30 minutes", for example. If you know that you can feasibly complete a task in a certain amount of time, set a timer and stick to it. Perfection hates the phrase "Good enough", so try saying it in your mind as your alarm sounds and you move away from the task.

We are all good enough just the way we are. Of course, we can set goals to further ourselves and grow, but they must be reasonable so that we can actually achieve them and feel that warm, Ready Brek glow of fulfilment urging us on to make more achievable goals.

Perhaps we should all embrace the perfectly imperfect a little more in life, after all, I now have a whole 1 pence worth of extra fuel in the car now. Imagine where I could go with that?


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