Sunday, March 30, 2014


Many, many years ago a very good friend of mine asked me if I thought I was a perfectionist.

I think she was doing some therapy sessions of her own at the time and the topic had come up.  I know she was reading The Road Less Travelled by M. Scott Peck.  I remember because she gave me a copy.

Perhaps I should have paid more attention.

Nup, I answered.  Not a chance.  With a life as imperfect as mine how could I be?

I had the view that to be a perfectionist you had to be striving for perfection.  And if that was the case, wouldn't you hit the mark sometimes, in at least some areas of your life?

And as I looked around my life all I could see were half met challenges, incomplete projects and journeys part made.

Mine was not The Road Less Travelled but rather The Road Under Construction.

But I am beginning to see that being a perfectionist has less to do with perfection and far more to do with striving for perfection.

And if we are talking about striving that is something I can relate to.  A lot.

I always thought it was a good thing, this striving.  Especially because I felt that my striving was less for some unattainable, unhealthy notion of perfection, but rather to be the best me I could be.  To create the best life I could create.

I questioned why I would want to live a life any less than my best.  And why I wouldn't want to be the best person I could be.

I was always looking for things to help me be "better".  A better friend, a better partner and better parent.  Always, always aiming for a better relationships.  And to a lesser degree always assuming I could have a better body, a better wardrobe, a better house. 

Essentially I have always thought I could be all round a lot better than I actually am, if only I put in more effort, focused more, did more work.

I didn't relate to this being perfectionism as such, because I knew that my life and myself could never be "perfect".  I just wanted it to be it's best.

So I have, I see now, been always striving - not for more (it's not about affluence) but for better.

And there is nothing wrong with wanting to be the best you can be, right?

Except that all this striving is exhausting.  And actually, the striving doesn't get me very far.  Because I'm often striving, but not doing any real work.  I'm often planning to live a better life, but still doing the same things day in and day out.

So the striving is somewhat futile.  Exhausting and futile.  And also?  It kind of makes me feel like I've failed before I've even started.

And the other thing about striving?  It is by it's very nature totally future focused.  So it keeps me looking at where I think I want to be, not where I am.  And that takes the joy out of the right now, because through a striving lens right now always looks a bit not quite good enough.

Still I'm not convinced I can completely give up my striving, perfectionist tendencies.

Because if I did I'm worried I would sit down on the couch with the House of Cards Box Set, a tub of Connoisseur Chocolate Honey Nougat and a large spoon and never get up.

And we can't have that now, can we?

But what I am slowly (very slowly) realising is that I can drop the striving lens, I can stop trying to be better in the future and simply focus on right now.

If I can shift my focus to the present moment, then I can take the pressure off myself to try and achieve some kind of utopian future in which I will be the best person I can be.  And simply be the best person I can be right now.

This version of me will not be perfect.  Not ever.  But it will be the best me I can be - not tomorrow, or in two weeks or after I start exercising four times a week and eating kale, but right now.

Wow.  That's kind of a revelation.  And kind of a relief.

Look, I doubt it's going to be that easy for me to drop my striving tendencies.  I love a To Do list after all.  But if I can just focus a little less on future goals, a little less on past failures and altogether more on right now, life might get a little easier.

A little better even.

Are you always striving for something "better"?

Listen to Pink F**kin' Perfect

Image Licensed Under Creative Commons


  1. I really like this post! Such great questions.

    In my mind all the striving does is steal away any opportunity to be content. Right now, as I type, I am not being my "better/best" self I am just typing. And there's no voice telling me to type better or sit up straighter... I just am. In my pjs, reading blogs.

    I love reflection, it's healthy and necessary. We can learn a lot from it - but not if it stops us from living.

    Thanks for pondering this stuff out loud. It's good!

    1. So gorgeous to see you here Annette. Thanks for taking the time to comment. I'm so glad you think my pondering is interesting. It actually helps with the striving, sometimes to get it out of my head!

  2. Why hello Kate! Are you my twin? I am a Virgo and one of our traits is being a perfectionist. People think this is a good thing - it is not! In my efforts to strive for perfectionism in everything I do, I find nothing gets done unless it can be done perfectly. Therefore nothing gets done, ever. This is such a great post. It's time to let go and enjoy the now.

    1. To think all my life I have thought it a good thing. Only to find that perfectionism is the opposite of joy - sucking the playfulness out of everything. Boo! Thanks for the comment Deb, always great to connect with you. xx

  3. Deb Baker - fellow Virgo, funny you should say that, I often feel that I am Kate's twin too ! Kate, as so many of your posts do, you have hit the nail on the head here. I also possess the list writing, perfect future yearning traits of a perfectionist. I think my issue may be more the fear of making a mistake but it does breed the same feelings of inadequacy and stress and always wanting to be "better" in the future - which so often leads to procrastination when I set the bar to an unattainable level and the cycle begins again. Focusing on the here and now is a very clever, sensible and achievable way of dealing with this issue. Thank you for the reminder (I have been focusing on doing so today after reading this post yesterday !) x

    1. It's actually quite a relief isn't it Ing? It's quite a heavy burden, the perfectionist thing. I'm sorry you are carrying too, but certainly pleased that this resonated with you. x

  4. Great post Kate and I know what you mean by all the striving and future planning being a little exhausting. 2 little boys under 3 kind of forced me to slow down and appreciate the little 'now' things - and celebrate little steps forward. I also think the quote 'comparison is the thief of joy' is spot on! Doing / going at a pace that's right for you is awesome, and having fun even more awesome! ps: so with you on the box set of House of Cards and the tub of icecream - that sounds like perfection right there.

    1. I could do with that combo right now actually Pia! Yes. Kids are great gurus when it comes to living in the now. Thanks so much for stopping by. x