Sometimes, you will lose your way in life and feel disappointed in yourself. All your planning, goal setting, and need for success conjured by your rational mind failed to lead you to the perfect outcome. You might judge yourself to be not good enough, not deserving enough, or not smart enough.

Perfectionism causes suffering.

The problem with perfectionism is that it never allows you to feel fully alive. You should be able to enjoy successes along the way and feel a genuine sense of accomplishment. Instead, you focus on what you didn’t do, what could have been done, or what should have happened.

The lens of perfectionism means you see your life darkly. You analyze, rationalize, and set standards that do not make sense. You focus on what you failed to do rather than what you managed to accomplish. And you forget about context and all the challenges and struggles you engaged with along the way.

Perfectionism means that you are too hard on yourself. And you take yourself too seriously. Life isn’t an exercise in productivity. No matter how much you try, your goals and plans will not always lead you to a desirable or expected place. The unexpected is always waiting for you, on the edge of your intuition.

Every human life is an improvisation with the full force of life. Your life is a liminal encounter with time, place, and presence. You were born into a context you could not choose. You will vanish back into the mystery from which you came. You engage in various situations and participate in circumstances not of your own making. You have a limited agency here. This is the emergent space in which you create your story.

To pursue perfectionism is to pursue a delusion. There is a wild and primal energy always moving in you, through you, and all around you. You cannot see your path in life because there isn’t one to follow. You must lean into all the uncertainties and unexpected events that find you and make your own path.

You prefer to take refuge in the superficialities of the rational mind, where you cling to the illusion of control. We seek consistency and stability inside a constantly changing reality. Mystery permeates the experience of being alive. We move through an ever-changing confluence of situations and circumstances. How we find our way is the story of an individual life.

Perfectionism is a dark mindset. It causes suffering and impairs the experience of being alive. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t set goals, make plans, or strive to achieve things we believe to be important in life. It does not mean that you should give up on the struggle to create value for self and others. Nor does it mean that you should stop trying to be the best we can be.

It does mean that you should embrace life as a creative endeavor. This is how you can recover from perfectionism. Instead of trying to get “there”, you focus your energy on quality of engagement. Instead of making judgements about perceived deficiencies in yourself, you focus on depth of participation. And rather than obsessing about getting things done, you dedicate your mind to the creation of meaning and value for self and others.

Here are some ideas for overcoming perfectionism:

  1. Remember context. All you can control in life is your mind and your thoughts, emotions, and reactions to what happens. That’s the best you can do. There will be other things you can exert partial control over. That is, you can exert influence but not determine how your life unfolds. And there are other elements of life you have no control over. Sometimes, the best you can do is accommodate and adapt.
  2. Get to know perfectionism within. Become aware of how it inhabits your thoughts, emotions, words, and beliefs. Rather than fight it, offer it friendship. You are engaging with a part of yourself that is lonely, abandoned, and angry.
  3. Practice self-kindness. This is a difficult practice for a perfectionist because they habitually focus their attention on what they fail to do. If the failure is genuine, then offer it kindness and try again. If failure is merely rampant criticism, shift your attention and focus on something more important.
  4. Redefine success. Society conditions us to focus on material success. Our education does not prepare us for the full force of life. Instead, it teaches us to become productive members of the workforce. Imagine success to be something far more magnificent and compelling than this.
  5. Embrace improvisation. No matter how much you plan your life, it will never unfold the way you expect. Your expectations, not the planning, are usually the problem. Choose creativity over perfectionism. Liberate yourself from disconnected expectations. Life is jazz.
  6. Live an engaged life. Productivity has its place, but it is no way to live. Quality of engagement with experience matters more than adhering to a plan. Instead of perfectionism, choose adventure. You’ll take yourself less seriously that way and have a little more fun along the way.
  7. Embrace authenticity. Being authentically human means that you allow yourself the space for error, misjudgment, and self-renewal. This is what makes learning possible. And this is how you discover things about yourself that you didn’t know that you knew.
  8. Learn to laugh at yourself. All perfectionists take themselves far too seriously. They have developed formidable skills in criticizing, judging, and dismissing; that is, they are fundamentally anti-creative. Learn to see yourself and your reactions in humorous ways. Life will feel a little lighter and more honest that way.

Perfectionism is a source of disconnection from reality. It is fanciful stuff of fiction. Perfection doesn’t exist, except in your imagination. Pursuing perfectionism is clinging to something that isn’t there.

You need to learn to rest within imperfection, and even thrive within it. Recognize that you are exactly where you need to be. You will liberate yourself from the confines of perfectionism and engage with experience in creative ways. And that will make your life more interesting and help you to become a better person along the way.