Breaking Free – May 2010 – The Perfection Prison




The Perfection Prison

Last month I wrote about Overcoming Indecision. If you’ve read it, you’ve learned how to watch out for the traps and some keys to making good decisions. As I asked others what gets in the way of them actually making decisions, one of the overwhelming responses is fear. As I probed a little deeper, I found out that the fear is often caused by perfection.

Many people overvalue the idea of perfection which causes them to devalue reality. The idea ends up having more value in their minds than actually creating and engaging in life. Instead of improving life, perfection creates a prison.

The Perfection Prison

So what does this perfection prison look like? Well, it only exists in your mind and it can be a major obstacle to your joy and happiness. The retaining bars of your prison are NOT real – they only appear real in your imagination. The bars of your prison may be created by:

  • Rejecting Failure = refusing to recognize a positive side to failure. For you perfectionists, your initial reaction to that last statement may be disbelief. What good can come of failure? Well, according to neuroscientists a great deal of good can come from failure because our mind is really good at detecting ‘errors’. That is how it creates new thoughts and neuropathways. You need failures to help your brain succeed.
  • Rejecting Success = refusing to “lower” your standards of perfection. The pursuit of perfection requires high standards and yet as the perfectionist approaches a high standard they immediately reset to even higher standards thus never celebrating success (which is also good for the brain.)
  • Rejecting Painful Emotions = Pain equals not perfect in the mind of the perfectionist. Happiness is the perfectionist’s goal and negative emotions fall short of that goal so these are avoided at all costs.
  • Rejecting Positive Emotions = by consistently and constantly setting goals that will never be reached, the perfectionist, by default, has little to celebrate. Realistically, when will your performance be perfect? Can’t you always find something to improve? So, when will perfection be reached? Never.
  • Rejecting the full experience of life = Life is flawed in the perfectionists mind. Perfection locks you into one specific outcome. The perfectionist spends much time living in their imagination and their “what if” world, missing out on the experience and journey of life.

All of this leads to fear (Fully Engaged in Avoiding Reality).

What is Perfection?

Let’s take a closer look at perfection from a number of perspectives…

Axiologically, perfection falls into the systemic category or the lowest axiological class of value. It is an idea, a concept that only exists in the mind or imagination of a human being. What is “perfect” to one person may not be “perfect” to another.

The definition of perfection is imperfect. In most of the definitions on, the world ‘perfect’ is used to define perfection. When you look up perfect, you find:

  • conforming absolutely to the description or definition of an ideal type
  • entirely without any flaws, defects, or shortcomings
  • excellent or complete beyond practical or theoretical improvement

So, when will a human being ever be “ideal” or “without flaws” or “beyond improvement”? NEVER!

Logically, perfection is imperfect. As my mentor, Harvey Schoof says “Perfection is the unrelenting, unyielding pursuit of the unachievable.” Perfection isn’t real. It’s purely imaginary.


Looking for the rest of this article?

This newsletter was published as part of Traci’s first book, “Breaking Free: Leading the Way” and published as a paperback and ebook. Due to ebook publishing restrictions, the content had to be removed.

If you would like to read the rest of this article as well as many others that deal with personal leadership development, click here.