Nov 17, 2012

Procrastination tip: embrace imperfection

I’m very perfectionist - in a (frequently) paralyzing-miserable-draining kind of way. I have a hard time with errors, uncertainties, difficulties and, essentially, imperfection…

As a student:
- I was the one with glasses who studied insane amounts of time;
- I was the last one to leave an exam, begging the teacher for 5 more minutes;
- Many of my practical assignments were never finished because I spent too much time attending to details;
- I always had a hard time recognizing quality in anything I did. This made me work like a crazy person and eventually I ended up with good/great results – but at an enormous cost. In the end I was feeling exhausted and miserable.

With the PhD this perfectionist tendency reached new levels of insanity. I was no longer one among many other college students. I had been chosen to do a PhD. And I had a supervisor with his eyes on me, telling everyone how important my work was. And well... Basically, I froze. Perfectionism highly encumbered my work progress (and it still does, but not so frequently).

When I’m working on my thesis these are frequent thoughts:
- This piece of work is a mess! I can’t take this messiness. I better quit…
- I’m working so slowly… This pace is ridiculous! I should be doing this much faster. I might as well quit.
- I don’t know how to solve this problem. Omg! I’m such an idiot. I better quit.
- I need to revise this piece of work 10 times before it’s finished! I can spot so many imperfections…

Crazy, right?  Who can work with a mind like this? ;P

Eventually I had to learn to embrace error and imperfection. Look them in the eyes, and say: “You don’t scare me”, and “I can deal with you”, or “I can live with you”.

Learning to embrace the inevitable imperfections in my work has helped a lot in dealing with my procrastination tendencies. Not only in writing the thesis, but in many other activities I engage in – like writing blog posts :P, sewing, and even decluttering.

As Neil Fiore so wisely says – swap “I need to be perfect” for “I can be perfectly human”. How much more refreshing and liberating is the second alternative?

Life is, in itself, imperfect. Striving for perfection is, at the very beginning, a lost cause. Of course we can and should strive for quality – but without the weight of perfectionism, our labor has much more room for learning, creativity and fun! ;)

Do you have perfectionist tendencies? How do you deal with them? I would love to hear from you in the comments section :)

Note: I recently read another inspiring post on this subject. Check it out.


  1. I read the same article you mention and have been mulling over this topic too. My perfectionism tendencies cause me similar anguish. Regularly,fear of failure leads me to waste time through procrastination. I try and deal with it by setting my self sensible time limits to complete tasks in, rewarding myself for small achievements and embracing the idea of good enough. I don't expect perfection from others so why do I demand it from myself? A thought worth asking yourself. Take care xo

    1. Hi Claire,

      I too wasted (and still waste, sometimes) a lot of time because of my fear of failure… The strategies you indicated really help to deal with it. And you’re absolutely right – I don’t expect perfection in others, and I’m much harsher on myself. I must keep reminding myself of the ‘good enough’ principle!
      Thanks for sharing your experience and thoughts :)

  2. I am very similar, and was the one who studied late into the night in school, always seeking the best grades. This continued all through to my MSc, I wouldn't settle for passing something, I had to get the distinction. My perfectionism among other things drove me to leave my PhD, I felt that I could never be good at research, and it ruined my self-confidence. the article by Brooke is great, it really opened my eyes.

    1. Hi Linda,

      Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I can see our paths have a lot in common. I was like that too – pretty much since I entered pre-school. I studied arts in high school and was planning on studying architecture or design in University. But, like you, my perfectionism led me to feel I didn’t have that “special gift” for arts, so I took a degree in… Civil engineering. Grey, cold and plain boring. And I also identify with what you say about feeling you could never be good enough at research – that’s what I feel, everyday. Really, I’m just trying to finish this to not feel like the last 5 years (yep, 5 years already) were completely wasted, but if I could go back in time and I was at the beginning (knowing what I know now) I would give up. I really hope you can restore your self-confidence. Your worth is not measured by how well you perform – I know it’s easy to say this rationally, and that it’s much harder to believe it deep down, but it’s good to remind ourselves of this every day, until we really believe it :P

      Thanks again, for sharing :)