Of Perfectionists and Pressure

Under PressureRemember to strive for the best, but it isn’t the end of the world if you don’t make it. Don’t burn yourself out striving for perfection. – Mom*

Perfectionists tend to put a lot of pressure on themselves. They have the pressure of doing everything perfectly. If they learn to cope with that particular pressure, they then face another one: the pressure of accomplishing goals and projects with unrealistic time frames. If they fail on either front, they’re likely to tailspin. They lose whatever confidence they have. They berate themselves. They forget that they’re human. They forget that they’re not called to a standard of perfection but to a standard of grace.

If it were easy to remember those things, perfectionists wouldn’t be, well, perfectionists. Unfortunately or fortunately, perfectionists typically have to fight with themselves daily. They have to set their mind on different things. They must learn to rejoice in the small successes rather than obsess over the smallest of failures.

The “unfortunately” comes into play because it means that perfectionists’ work is never done. They have to remain on guard against the negativity and self-doubt that try to make an appearance. They can’t be lulled into a false sense of security. They have to remain alert.

The “fortunately” is due to the simple fact that perfectionism is like any other malady or vice. It’s something that makes perfectionists wholly human – despite their best efforts to be perfect and, for some weird reason, not human at all. That means it’s something that can be overcome. Perfectionists don’t have to remain imprisoned by their perfectionism. They can find freedom if they’re willing to step outside the cage and fly.

How? That question isn’t easy to answer. It is a daily battle, but it may be one won by remembering that perfectionism only takes the joy out of the moment. Striving for the unattainable leads to burn out. Perfectionism only destroys. If perfectionists can remember that, perhaps they’ll be more likely to stop placing so much pressure on themselves and to start living in a state of grace.

Image: Forty Two. (CC BY NC 2.0)

*That quote is from my mom. I found the words in a letter she wrote to me on the occasion of my graduation from high school.


  1. Wonderful, gentle exploration of a painful subject for many, including me. Reminds me of that feeling of getting work back from a professor with an A on it, but still feeling like it’s terrible and wanting to rip it up and go in another direction. I’m better about that these days, but … it’s still there! Thanks for the post!

  2. DwayneAlicie Perfectionism never dies, does it? We just learn how crippling it can be and strive to be a little more imperfect (Somehow, I end up trying to do that perfectly. You’d think I’d learn.).

  3. TristanPinnock says:

    Most of the writing people praise me for was written with about a 2-3 hour deadline. These are just stream of consciousness data dumps.
    And when I look back on them a year or so later, I find a lot to cringe about…but I’ve moved on. Sure, if they were to go into a book or something, I’d probably freshen them up a bit, but I’ve long learned that short of the occasional typo a reader mentions, it’s best to hit publish and walk away.

  4. TristanPinnock I’m more like that when it comes to my poetry. I write it; I do some slight revisions; I format it (I write all my poems by hand first.); I choose if it’s worthy of Tumblr; and I move on. I’d only spend extensive time revising and editing if I were to compile the poems.