Letting Go of Perfectionism & Embracing Imperfection

Image of child practicing piano Is being “perfect” all it’s cracked up to be? No! Striving for perfection is an exercise in futility. Mistakes and failures are inevitable. What we do with them is what is important. Are we able to get up after falling and continue to move forward? Such experiences lead to resilience in us and in our children. The longer I live, the more I value resilience over perfection.

The other day while I was teaching piano, I witnessed yet another example of the down side of striving for perfection. A young student intended to play a piece, but sat frozen at the keys. In our conversation about what was happening, I offered that it is just fine to make mistakes as this is how we learn. I added that I was confident that she knew what she was doing. She responded, “I do know the piece pretty well, but I am afraid to play, because I do not ever want to make a mistake.” Unfortunately, this is not the first time I have encountered this unproductive way of thinking that hinders learning and stifles creativity. It has raised its head many times throughout my years working alongside children, their parents, and adult students. It is helpful to set a goal of excellence, but never perfection. Why? Because perfection does not exist except as a creation in our minds. And perfection is a tyrant. I am grateful that I once had a piano teacher who said, “A sign of an accomplished musician is the ability to have mistakes sound like they were meant to be a part of the music.” This stance embraces our imperfections and incorporates them into the fabric of what we are attempting to learn or create.

As with piano students, the unrelenting goal of perfection can cause any of us to freeze. When taking a perfectionist stance, we diminish our ability to experiment, create, and learn. The fear of failure—or perhaps the fear of not appearing perfect—haunts us and shuts us down. Although it seems a bit counter-intuitive, when we chase after the illusion of perfection, we invite the very things we are trying to avoid. And a downward spiral can begin.

Some unintended consequences of striving for perfection include:

  • Increased insecurity
  • Harshness toward self
  • Decreased self-confidence
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Self-harming behaviors such as cutting or eating disorders
  • Ideas about suicide

In contrast, embracing our imperfections and learning to recover after making a mistake can increase confidence and a sense of competency, resilience, personal satisfaction, happiness, life balance, and success!

Is the drive for perfectionism wearing you down? Have you struggled with a nagging voice that demands perfection and informs you that what you do is never good enough or worse, that you are never good enough? These harsh thoughts are creating impossible burdens and only deserve to be challenged and dismissed. Would you or someone you know benefit from looking at perfection differently? If so, please contact me. Let’s begin challenging the tyrant of perfectianism in order to live a life that is our own—and filled with some lovely imperfections.

By the way, this little article took a long time for me to write because I just couldn’t get it “perfect”.  To combat this tyrant, I deliberately placed a spelling mistake in the previous paragraph. Please enjoy it.