Time To Conquer Perfectionism


imperfectionCan you name 3 of the top New Year’s Resolutions that people make every January?
Do you know what my 3 topics are?? AHA! How perceptive of you. That’s right. The answers to both questions are the same.

My topics are (and my passion is) helping people to 1) break the procrastination habit, 2) conquer clutter and 3) manage stress in a healthy way.

Would you believe that there is one specific habit/attitude that has such a profound impact on ALL of these topics that all three of my books devote a large chunk of space to it? Got any idea what attitude would increase your clutter AND procrastination AND stress? Go ahead. Try to guess.

OK, I’ll give you a hint…the hint is….OK, I’ll tell you what it is.

It’s perfectionism. Yes, expecting perfection from yourself, from those around you … and from life. It generates procrastination, clutter and stress.

Now I’m not saying that instead of perfection, you should strive for mediocrity. I don’t think anyone who takes time to read this Tip Sheet would accept mediocrity. What I’m saying is — shoot for excellence. THAT is achievable.
Perfection is hardly every achievable.

Years ago, I was sitting at a table signing books after giving a Keynote at a conference, and a woman standing in front of me said, “My house is always a mess…. because I am a perfectionist.” I looked up at her and said, “That sounds backwards. I would think if you are a perfectionist, your house would look perfect.”

She said, “OH NO!! I was taught that the right way to wash the kitchen floor is to move everything to one side, wash it, then move everything back. (Now pay attention to what she said next.) If I don’t have the time or the energy to do something perfectly…. I don’t do it at all.”

Can you relate to that? Have you ever NOT had the time or energy to do something perfectly….. so you just never got around to doing it??

There was a time in my life when I was an avid perfectionist. I put off everything till the circumstance or time was perfect. Then something happened when I was a Cub Scout Den Leader which turned my thinking upside down.

In our Den of 6 boys were twins named Pat and Mike. When we made gifts for parents, these twins constantly looked over each other’s shoulder to make sure their gifts were identical.

One year we made stained-glass ornaments for Christmas gifts. On a cookie sheet, the boys placed a metal outline of a snowman or a star, then filled the frame with plastic beads which would melt in a hot oven, and look like stained glass. By the end of the meeting, the boys had completed everything except we hadn’t baked the beads yet. I told them I’d bake them that evening, and they could pick up the finished present the next day.

I don’t know what went wrong, but when I took out the ornaments, the beads in 5 of the metal frames had bounced around and colors had mixed together. Five ornaments were wrecked, one was perfect; it was Michael’s. The twins’ gifts didn’t match. The boys had worked so hard and now five of the Christmas gifts were ruined. I felt terrible.

That night, a friend told me the story of how some Native Americans deliberately put a flaw in their beadwork to remind them that this is an imperfect world and we are imperfect people. I went to the library and found a book with photos of Native American beadwork. There were the flaws, as obvious as could be.

So, when the boys came to my house the next day, five of them wanted to know why I had “wrecked” their ornaments; the sixth one, Michael, was strutting around telling everyone how wonderful his looked. I sat them down and told them about the Native Americans putting a flaw in their beadwork, and I showed them photos in the library book. Then I gave them their ornaments and sent them all home.

About twenty-five minutes later, the twins’ mom called and said, “Rita, every once in a while I need an explanation about what goes on at these den meetings. This is one of those times.

“Can you please tell me why Patrick is grinning from ear to ear over his little white snowman with the green blob across its belly, and Michael is in his bedroom crying, ‘Mine’s too perfect! Mine’s too perfect!’ ”

I cherish this story and hold it close to my heart, because for me it was the turning point in really grasping the difference between excellence and perfection … and the beginning of my conquering procrastination.

SO if you find that your New Year’s Resolutions are already gone and forgotten, skip them and simply start to recognize those times that you expect perfection — and keep reminding yourself that this is an imperfect world and we are imperfect people.
May your New Year be delightfully imperfect.


Rita Emmett
Author of The Procrastinator’s Handbook,
The Clutter-Busting Handbook and
Manage Your Time to Reduce Your Stress: A Handbook for the Overworked, Overscheduled, and Overwhelmed
2331 Eastview
Des Plaines, IL 60018