Perfection: You Might Be Getting It Wrong

Karen Patten

Are you a perfectionist? I am. And frankly, it’s not really all it’s cracked up to be. It makes me an “all or nothing” kind of person. I think it may be unhealthy perfectionism. Not a super terrific trait for success in any area of life, because, let’s face it – people aren’t perfect. Isn’t that just a big disappointment? Are you hard on yourself? What about others? Here’s why unhealthy perfection isn’t righteous.

Unhealthy perfectionism isn't motivational! What good is perfectionism if it can't help you reach your goals? I love this idea of what to do instead. I'm going to work on this!

Perfection that’s motivated by your own inner drive is great! Imagine working hard to get that “perfect” picture. If you say it’s perfect and you’re satisfied with that, perfectionism can be great! You set a goal, worked hard, and achieved it!

But imagine working hard on that same picture, and somebody saying “what if you did this to it?….” Do you then feel like you need to change it? I think that’s the more common form of perfectionism – you’re striving to meet some external expectation, not your own internal vision of perfection.

This kind of perfection can easily get out of control and interfere with your relationships, your motivation, and achieving your goals. So if this is the kind of perfection you’re after, you’ve blown it. Here’s why.

Unhealthy Perfectionism | What Is It?

I am a huge fan of Brene Brown! Brown discusses this unhealthy  perfectionism.

Maladaptive perfectionism — a drive to perfection that generally has social roots, and a feeling of pressure to succeed that derives from external, rather than internal, sources — is highly correlated with depression, anxiety, shame and guilt.

“Perfectionism is not about striving for excellence or healthy striving…It’s… a way of thinking and feeling that says this: ‘If I look perfect, do it perfect, work perfect and live perfect, I can avoid or minimize shame, blame and judgment.'”

Wow! HUGE shift in perspective there! Do you strive for perfection to avoid somebody’s judgment? What are the true roots of your perfectionism? They make all the difference! This was a really big moment for me to recognize this. I have always been a perfectionist – and my perfectionism was driven by somebody else’s expectations of me! Simply recognizing this is an amazing way to change the discussion for yourself!

Ok, so you’ve got it. Stop striving for perfection to avoid somebody else’s judgment of you. But, for real… Why is that so terrible? Isn’t it a good thing to make friends, family, and parents proud?

Unhealthy Perfectionism | Why To Avoid It

A perfect person is unachievable. Can we agree on that? Our imperfections are what makes us interesting and unique. Stop rolling your eyes, you perfectionist, you! It’s true.

Many perfectionists struggle with black-and-white thinking — you’re a success one moment and a failure the next, based on your latest accomplishment or failure — and they do things in extremes. If you have perfectionist tendencies, you’ll probably only throw yourself into a new project or task if you know there’s a good chance you can succeed — and if there’s a risk of failure, you’ll likely avoid it altogether. Studies have found perfectionists to be risk-averse, which can inhibit innovation and creativity. (source)

Becoming risk averse, in a nutshell, is what destroys your goals and keeps you from being whole. Once you become risk averse, you won’t pursue your goals if you don’t already know that you will succeed. And, wait! Guess what’s even worse?

Maybe you haven’t let yourself fully accept your goals? Maybe you’re afraid of your goals? Maybe you think your goals are too lofty? Maybe you set the bar too low so that you can achieve it readily. NO! Stop that!

Jane Fonda has a great quote,“The challenge is not to be perfect…it’s to be whole” Strive for wholeness. What if you never set your goals where you really wanted them to be or never dreamed your dreams because you weren’t certain of your success? You wouldn’t be whole.

Here’s what you can do to move toward being whole.

Unhealthy perfectionism isn't motivational! What good is perfectionism if it can't help you reach your goals? I love this idea of what to do instead. I'm going to work on this!

Unhealthy Perfectionism | What To Do Instead

So if I’m used to trying to be perfect to avoid blame, shame, or judgment, what do I do now?

Brown’s remedy? Try practicing authenticity. Let others see you, exactly as you are, and let go of the protecting shield of perfectionism in order to express vulnerability.

“Authenticity is a practice and you choose it every day,” she says, “sometimes every hour of every day.” Authenticity means that you allow people to see you just as you are. Warts and all.

Ok. Let’s get real. That can be terrifying. Let’s return to that blame, shame, and judgment thing. If people see the authentic you – won’t they blame, shame, and judge? Maybe. Probably. But you step onto the path of meeting your truly authentic self. And that’s worth leaving a few nay-sayers by the way. Your authentic self is worth it!

My Unhealthy Perfectionism

Yep. I’m rife with it. I have always been a perfectionist. If you’ve followed other posts in this series, you know that my biggest life challenge has been my weight. Maybe…just maybe… My unhealthy perfectionism stands in the way of loosing weight? What if people know I’m trying to loose weight and I fail? Then I’ll be judged.

When I lost over 120 lbs. it was truly not about anybody but me. I gave up caring about what anyone thought about me, my health, the way I looked, the “crazy” ways that I learned how to eat – you name it. And thoughts like “I want to look great in a pair of size 8 jeans…” are still about external validation. I just didn’t care what anyone thought. It was only about me.

My success flowed from there. Freely.

If you’ve already missed any of this great motivation, or if you ever miss anything new, you can always check out my Motivation Monday page which will have a list of all the posts in the on-going series.

Don’t wait…Go for your goals today!!!


  1. Tricia on February 10, 2016 at 4:37 pm

    Great post. I can honestly say that I am NOT a perfectionist. I think it’s why I enjoy cooking over baking. It’s interesting how some people are more into getting everything perfect than others. Sometimes I think I should try a little harder at certain things, but I a lot of times I just don’t care that much haha. Maybe I’m just lazy?

    • Karen Patten on February 12, 2016 at 2:02 pm

      Definitely not lazy! I love cooking over baking as well – baking is too precise. I really enjoy playing with things! I usually tell people if they ate something at my house that they enjoyed, they probably won’t get that exact thing again because I won’t remember exactly how I did it!

  2. ashley on February 10, 2016 at 7:51 pm

    I love that quote from Jane Fonda! Great post.

    • Karen Patten on February 12, 2016 at 2:01 pm

      That quote can really be life changing! Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Ana on February 12, 2016 at 10:09 pm

    I am definitely a perfection…to my detriment. Something I’m working on, but know it will take time. Makes life a heck of a lot harder trying to make sure everything is up to the “right standards.” Great reminder to not let it get out of control!!

    • Ana on February 12, 2016 at 10:11 pm

      And by perfect, I meant perfectionist 😉

    • Karen Patten on February 13, 2016 at 11:07 am

      Here’s to another perfectionist! Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Joanie @Simple Living Mama on February 14, 2016 at 9:04 am

    I’ve been known to be a perfectionist, and it has held me back. I’m afraid of failure! I am really working on changing that this year, and I am actually doing the things that I’ve been afraid to do!

  5. Stefanie / The Monarch Mommy on February 14, 2016 at 10:35 am

    I love the idea of striving for wholeness. I’m going to remember that one!

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  7. Angela on July 10, 2016 at 7:52 am

    Hi Karen! I love this post and I too fight the battle with perfectionism. I’ve never heard that Jane Fonda quote before and I love it. I hope to meet you at the BLU Conference in Atlanta. 🙂

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Hi, I’m Karen, the Atlanta mama, writer, and creator at Intentional Family Life. I’m a passionate advocate for intentional living so that you can experience all that you deserve for yourself and your family. Here, I inspire moms to chose what matters most and then to only do the things that move them closer to what matters most. Read More About Karen…

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