Being a 'Perfectionist' never leads to Freedom

People wear the badge of ‘perfectionist’ with pride. They believe that if they call themselves a perfectionist they have already attained a sense of worth. This is crap thinking. Just plain crap. The only thing being a perfectionist will guarantee you is that you will never have the kind of freedom you want and you will be stuck with a tremendous amount of shame. Every perfectionist that I’ve worked with has wanted to attain a certain amount of freedom. Financial freedom. Freedom from the expectations of others. Freedom to travel. Freedom from their scheduling. Freedom from _________. Freedom has actually been a goal for these people. The irony here is that they have chosen perfectionism as a path to freedom. You cannot get to freedom by trying to be perfect. It’s like trying to hate your way to love. Or like trying to mitigate your way to success. It just can’t be done.

Where does the shame come in? Well first of all, can we all just admit there is no such thing as perfection, in the traditional sense? No one is perfect. No one can be perfect. Aiming for perfection so that you might land on something good is also a trap. In trying to be perfect we say no to a ton of opportunities because all the stars aren’t ‘aligned’ perfectly. And when we do say yes to a few opportunities we end up disappointed that things didn’t turn out ‘perfectly’. At that point we find ourselves holding a bag full of shame for how we failed in this way or that.

The real kicker is that calling yourself a perfectionist brings about a certain sense of pride because we get to project a certain persona of elitism. “I want to do things perfectly because that’s what I demand of myself. I have high standards.” But you can have high standards and not be a perfectionist. This false sense of pride allows you to be ok with never accomplishing what you want because you can always throw out your project and declare… “It just wasn’t perfect.” Being a perfectionist affords the perfect opportunity to make excuses and partner with resistance without being aware of it.

Perfection NEVER equals freedom.

But if your intention is truly to experience freedom, why not substitute the word ‘adventure’ for ‘perfection’? Adventure certainly leads to freedom. Adventure allows you to take calculated risks. And while these risks are loaded with the potential to make mistakes or even fail, it’s totally acceptable because some of our most adventurous moments come from failures. Not the kind that end our lives, but the kind of failures that allow us to learn incredible lessons and move beyond our comfort zones. When you aren’t afraid to make mistakes you not only find yourself ready to move forward in a project with more boldness and zeal, you will also find yourself succeeding where you thought it wasn’t previously possible.

Substituting adventure for perfection allows you to take a risk. And the only way to really succeed is to find a way to become comfortable with risk.

Substituting adventure for perfection will release you from the paralysis that comes from over-analyzing every single decision. If you’re an over-analyzer, and you find yourself in the paralysis trap often, I can almost guarantee that you consider yourself a perfectionist.

Substituting adventure for perfection will immediately help you to live into the feeling of freedom. Why? Because you will actually be free from the shame, second guessing, and potential excuses that might have previously been created.

So let me ask you. What sounds better to you? What sounds like more fun? What sounds like a healthier way to live your life? Being an adventurer, or being a perfectionist. If you still think being a perfectionist is a badge of honor, maybe you need to find a new stylist. Choose adventure. It makes for a much better story.


"Jazz stands for freedom. It's supposed to be the voice of freedom: Get out there and improvise, and take chances, and don't be a perfectionist - leave that to the classical musicians." - Dave Brubeck
"It's a way of thinking that says this: 'If I look perfect, live perfect, work perfect, I can avoid or minimize criticism, blame and ridicule... All perfectionism is, is the 20-ton shield that we carry around hoping that it will keep us from being hurt." - Brene Brown
"Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a (crappy) first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it." - Anne Lamott

Finding Perfection

When my children were little it was often difficult to get them to fall asleep. In fact it used to take 1.5-2 hours to get my oldest to fall asleep on any given night. I still remember how frustrating that would feel. I would work a full day and then spend the evening cleaning up after my children, play with them and then get them ready for bed. When it was finally time for them to go to sleep I just wanted them to nod off so I could have a couple hours to do something I liked, something that I was interested in. Now if you’re a parent you can relate to what I’m talking about. But even if you aren’t, I’m sure you can understand. I remember one night we were visiting friends at the beach and as I was holding Della and trying to get her to fall asleep, I came to the realization that I was calm and perfectly content. To be holding her and putting her to sleep was as close to perfection in life that I could recall. I wasn’t ‘just waiting’ for her to fall asleep so I could go do something else. I genuinely felt at home and at peace. It was an amazing feeling. Usually I was trying to get my children out of the way for the evening so I could do something that I would enjoy (read a book, watch a movie, play a video game, surf online, etc.). But I had found perfect peace in that moment of loving Della by showing her physical and emotional love. Some of you may be saying, ‘duh’ Brad, that’s what being a parent is all about. But this was as in the center of God’s will as I had felt since I could remember. I wasn’t making a massive gesture of world change or anything ‘enormous’ like that. I was simply holding my daughter and putting her to sleep.

I’ll be honest. In my life and in my line of work, there is a lot of talk about serving others. And while I know it’s important, up until that point, I really didn’t enjoy it. It was just a necessary part of being a spiritual counselor and leader. But after that realization with my daughter, everything changed. I realized that serving someone else and truly finding perfection in loving someone else was enough.

Most of us volunteer somewhere and give of our time because we know that to be a good thing. But do we know it to be a perfect and beautiful thing? In the moment that we are absolutely adding value to someone else’s life, what could be more perfect? Or we look at the subtle gesture that we have offered and think nothing of it. When in fact even the smallest gesture of service to another human being is of incredible importance.

May you find beauty and perfection in giving of yourself to another person, even in the tiniest of ways.