The Perfection Malady

“No!” she screeched. “You need to cut the sandwiches diagonally not horizontally.”  She continued.

The man, “How does it matter?” 

The woman looked at him and spoke between clenched teeth, “It does, to me.” He rolled his eyes and sighed. She went taut, ready to retort then sat down and went into some strange ritual of breathing. 

He looked at her, acquiescent as she blew her last breath and then, miraculously smiled at him. “It’s okay, I’m fine. Cut it whichever way you want, it doesn’t matter.”

The subject of eloquence was – sandwiches. The woman wanted them to be cut her way – the perfect way. 

You may have experienced a situation similar to this, at some point. This need – to do it ‘right’. So, what is right? Is the output more important than the process? Diagonal or horizontal? Would the sandwich taste different? 

Striving for excellence is great. The pursuit leads to the discovery of capabilities that may surprise you. However, when the craving for excellence deprives you of the ability to appreciate your own labour and accomplishments, the scales are tilting, precariously. Making you fall prey into the clutches of the ‘P’ word – Perfection. The definition of Perfectionism is, ‘straining compulsively and unceasingly towards unobtainable goals and measuring their self-worth by productivity and accomplishment’.

“Being harsh on yourself”, says my Aunt D “is what perfection is all about.” Perfection is the unreal halo of expectation you place upon your head. And, which in a flash, can transform into that tightening noose around you. Perfection is a double-edged sword. Which side of that sword are you sharpening? If it’s getting in the way of your life then it’s becoming a malady.

How do you know whether you are suffering from the Perfection Malady?

  1. Ruthless focus on detail – when the need to nit-pick and worry about each painstaking detail is high and causing discomfort to you and those around you i.e the comma or the tilt of the photo frame.
  2. The need to ‘be better’ – when you are wracked with the need to be flawless or feel ‘I’m not enough’. 
  3. Fear of rejection – when the pressure to please people in early childhood has cemented itself in other areas of your life. The constant need to keep pushing the bar higher for approval.
  4. Avoidance – when you are caught between, ‘if I don’t win then I don’t want to do it’ and tend to skirt issues because you would like to do it your way. The guilt of being or doing ‘less’ is tantamount to failure to you.  
  5. The innate urgency to ‘fix’ things yourself. You feel only ‘you can do it best’. Your impatience gets you taking on the work done by others. Leaving you with constant anxiety, frustration or and worry about how things ought to be or get done.

If more than 3 of the above points resonated with you, then read on. Remember, seeking excellence is important for success however obsessing about it, gets you infected with the Perfection Malady.

I have been a seeker of perfection throughout most of my life. Making life harder for myself in the pursuit of the high standards I uphold. Each time, the Perfection Malady stalked me; I invited stress into my world. My success seemed like a long path wrought with the pain I afflicted on myself due to my self-judgments. I found myself caught in the web of my obsession to find fault in everything and everyone until one day I realised how it affected my health and my relationships. 

Was it worth it? No, not at all. 

I learnt to cope with this monster called perfectionism, a long time ago and I’m still coping. I daresay, I haven’t got over it, but yes, I’m aware when it snakes its head up to take over control and I know, it’s time to quash it. 

I’m sharing what I’ve learnt in the hope that you find something useful to live a life of ease.

Here are a few ways to handle perfectionism:

  1. Awareness – this is the first step.  Have you set standards for yourself? Are they unrealistic? Is your confident dependent on your success? To find a solution you need to know that there IS a problem to be resolved.
  2. Perspective – Take a reality check. Look at the bigger picture. Will the need for perfection have an impact on the outcome? You’ll know how to answer this.  
  3. Fair Assessment – If you’re obsessing over, ‘it is not up to the mark’ then perhaps you need to step back and ask yourself what is the need of the hour and, then what is your benchmark? Acknowledge your effort. You did your best.
  4. Progress is key – At times, you may give in to the need to do it ‘right’ than give it on time. What good is a perfect proposal compared to submitting it past the deadline? Being on time pips perfection, anytime. 
  5. Failure is okay – Don’t beat yourself over your mistakes. It is okay to fail. Success is all about failing. It is the ladder to growth. Learn from it and be kind, to yourself and others.
  6. Flexibility – There is always another way to do it. There is always help to get it done. Try doing things, differently. Let go of the need to be rigid. 
  7. Acceptance – People are doing the best they can. Don’t dump your high standards on them and expect them to perform like you.
  8. Learn from nature – Is there anything perfect? The trees are misaligned, the river is not constant and takes a look at your body, even that is a tad asymmetrical. 
  9. Choose joy – Choose to enjoy the journey. You’ll find yourself in a better space. Focus on what you have accomplished than what you haven’t done or done ‘correctly’. Choose gratitude over anxiety, guilt and depression. These emotions are a waste of your precious time on earth. 

One of the things, I do often is, ask myself this question: 

Is what I’m doing taking me ahead or pulling me back? 

This is my cue to shift my gear from the perfection of unrealistic expectations to achieving real results. That’s it. Perfection is about control over things beyond you. Surrender and self-forgive so you can wrest control of your life and enjoy the journey instead of being fixated on the destination. 

It’s time to bring the magic into your life, right now! None of us is perfect, and that is perfectly fine.

Farzana Suri Victory Coach is a successful Life Coach who empowers you to find the victor within you. She can be reached on or

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