Are you a perfectionist?

I've known for years that I'm a perfectionist. It's probably the reason I don't enjoy cooking with my kids, and I'm more or less okay with that! But lately, I'm getting better at seeing the ways it holds me back.


As a perfectionist, I'm also a huge planner. I looooooove getting some blank paper, a nicely sharpened pencil (or better yet, one of these) and a clipboard, and going to town. I'll map out five years and then five years after that, making sure to double check health insurance quotes or self-employment tax code as I plan. I make deliberate folds in the paper to create sections, strike out neat little boxes to highlight highlights, draw explanatory arrows, and the whole bit. For the same reasons I deeply admire Bram Stoker's Dracula (Accurate train schedules! Detailed reality!) I really enjoy planning.

But the problem is, that level of detail and scrutiny really gets in the way of the big picture. Instead, it's better to just take the first step. Of course you can (perhaps must?) see the possible branches or paths that might shoot off of that initial choice. And do be certain that those seem good and appealing to you as results or segues, but don't think beyond that. Take the first step, then let the rest unfold. Phew. Deep breath. You can do this.


Earlier this afternoon, I made a pavlova with the kids. It was a huge mess, because with the kids, but when we were done, I had four gorgeous organic egg yolks from my cousin's chickens sitting in a bowl as a result. The egg yolks were that deep orangey yellow that only organically homegrown American, or European, eggs have and I knew there was no way those puppies were going in the garbage! So after I had cleaned up, I poured myself a glass of red, got out this classic and flipped to the Mayonnaise recipe page. Then, it all seemed so picturesque, that I decided to put it in my Instagram stories. First, the lighting was bad. Then, once I had corrected that, our ugly rental countertop looked really ghetto in my iPhone camera rendering. Finally, I actually asked myself, "Am I really going to clear off the island and style the mortar and pestle and grapefruit candle from Trader Joe's for a photo?" And the answer was "YES." And the photo was quite perfect.

But don't fall for that shit.

Styled photos are just that. And they are EVERYWHERE. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Done is better than not done. Aim for good enough. Whatever mantra works for you, just repeat it over and over again. And don't for one second compare your life to someone else's styled life. I was so tempted to do a follow up story showing the cutting board which needed a wash after being maimed by an everything bagel a good ten hours before during the morning rush, and the ugly laminate flooring. But, you know. Those yolks were really glorious in that still life. Who am I to follow up an image with a second one? Getting the first one up was effort enough! ;)

So the moral of the story is, when you see something beautiful, recognize it as beauty. But don't mistake it for reality.


Rome is so beautifully decaying. Children, when they perform in ballet recitals or plays, are so endearingly perfect precisely for their errors. The haphazard and slapped on stickers and stamps in a passport are what make it so precious.

When I was a child, I had a book that had gotten wet, and when they pages dried, their warped stiffness was so irresistible to me, I remember standing my favorite book, fanned open, out in the rain on our deck during the next rain shower so as to achieve the same effect on its pages.

Often times in life, the perfection is in the chaos and messiness. Embrace that whenever you can.

Are you a perfectionist? How do you stop it from stopping you?

PS - I'll double check once it's completely cooled, but I think the pavlova fell. ;)

(Illustration via The Edition Blog/Pinterest)


  1. My father always used to say, "Done is better than perfect," and it is a mantra I have adopted as my own. I repeat it to myself often. It honestly helped me a whole lot to live more happily with myself – before, I would do things like drown in clutter in the closet or (aahhh!) on the bedroom floor rather than tidy up imperfectly, since there was never time to do it “perfectly,” etc.

    Now, if I can get the closet organized for summer but there’s a little pile of junk left in the corner, then you know what, done is better than perfect and I’ll get to that pile someday – the seasons will change again soon and I can have another crack at it then, but even if I don’t do it then, fine. If there is a picture that is just sort of not the right size for the photo wall I’m hanging – then you know what, done is better than perfect, it goes up anyway, and I can always replace it later on if it really bothers me (spoiler: that was six months ago and it hasn’t bothered me enough to replace it yet, but I’m so glad to have the photos hung anyway – how much would it suck to still have a huge blank wall just because I never got around to finding the perfect picture for that one spot). Some uneven edges on the Christmas stockings I made? Well, done is better than perfect, and they’ve lasted just fine through the years so far. If I can get the playroom blocks in the bin and the trains in the train bag and the floor mostly cleared, but don’t yet know where to “put away” the big Bruder trucks so they just hang out on the rug? That’s a success, not a failure, because done is better than perfect, and the playroom is “done” for the night. And so on.

    My father was a complicated guy who struggled a lot with his own imperfections, often to his own very real detriment – he forever bounced between wild and unprecedented success, and then abject failure. He revolutionized his industry and started his own company, but eventually got pushed out by his business partner (not undeservedly) and wound up scaling back to routine mid-level work instead, etc. I can see looking back that he often got paralyzed by his own inability to reach perfection, and was often unable to see the value in being merely “great” instead of “perfect,” and therefore would flounder into a downward spiral that he would then have to pick himself back up out of. I am glad that I was able to see the same kind of tendencies in myself so that I can work to avoid the roller coaster he spent so long riding. My younger sister, interestingly, is the total opposite. She always does best after failing – a stubborn student, she would skip classes until she literally failed them, then soar to straight A’s in the second half of the year even in advanced calculus and science courses. There is an indignant and vengeful streak in her that enjoys proving people wrong, blowing past expectations. Whereas in me (and my father) there is instead the constant lurking pre-emptive shame of not living up to expectations, and a fear of proving people “right.”

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