How Perfectionism Stunts Our Spiritual Growth

Practice makes perfect. Strive for perfection, but settle for excellence. Perfection is the child of Time. Be perfectly imperfect. Perfectionism: it’s just another ism. Perfect is as perfect does. There are so many quotes about perfection and perfectionism that it’s enough to give a person a perfect headache. Despite the prevailing wisdom that perfection is a myth we ought not to torture ourselves trying to reach, many of us have a secret idea of “perfect” hidden somewhere in our minds—the perfect job, body, salary, and apartment.

We dismiss the goal of perfection in public but condemn ourselves in private for not being perfect enough, or we describe a delicious meal or rejuvenating vacation as “perfection.” Our wisest, most compassionate self knows the allure of perfectionism is nothing more than a mirage. On the other hand, the desire to grow past our limits and achieve our goals is, well, perfectly healthy.

Brené Brown, Ph.D., reminds us that it’s important to distinguish perfectionism from healthy striving for excellence. The distinction is important; Brown describes perfectionism as self-destructive, addictive, and unattainable: “Perfectionism is not the key to success. Research shows perfectionism hampers achievement and is correlated with depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis, or missed opportunities.”

We’ve all heard, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good”— I like to say, “Don’t let perfectionism be the enemy of growth.” Perfectionism prevents us from experiencing our own life as it unfolds. In Living Beautifully: with Uncertainty and Change, Pema Chodron invites us to “Be fully present. Feel your heart. And engage the next moment without an agenda.”

Pema’s words provide a road map for how we might aim for success without perfectionism as our target. We commit to the process while staying open to the result. We focus on the impact we hope to have. We remain attentive and alive to how our efforts affect our heart, mind, body, and soul. When we leave perfectionism behind, we begin to walk the path of spiritual growth.

How might you let go of perfectionism today?