The Curse of Perfectionism

So in the Levo League office, we have a bright and bold poster emblazoned with the phrase: Done is better than perfect.
I totally understand it and I absolutely love it… in theory. But the problem is that I like done and perfect.  I’m obsessed with it in fact. Another problem is that I don’t have an actual definition of what perfect even is for me. (I think “perfect” is something that’s different for everyone to begin with.) It’s not even how something ends up looking or performing, it’s more of how it feels to me. But I don’t feel the perfect… I just feel a lot of the not perfect.
It’s definitely something I work on (and frankly have to work on) all the time. Sometimes it’s worse than others, but ultimately it’s just moving towards not getting so bogged down by the not perfects.
One of the most difficult aspects that I have to get past is the notion that I actually get a lot of stuff done when I’m obsessing over the perfect. I don’t like to do things that I can’t do perfectly (whoops) and grow super frustrated with myself if I can’t get to a point I feel at least okay with. 
One example was a problem set for a class I took at Georgetown. I was fixated on getting that problem set completed. I had no idea what I was doing or how to do it, so I spent four hours rereading the textbook and just playing around the computer program. And then I spent another four hours actually working on the set. Eight hours in one sitting. On one hand, I figured it out and could (probably) replicate the skills learned even to this day. On the other hand, I got three points off (for a 97%) and was so disappointed that I had spent the time to actually learn it and still couldn’t get the 100%.
But I missed the whole point of spending time on working that hard. It wasn’t to get the perfect grade. It was to simply learn.
One of my big goals for the week is to reevaluate how I define success. Or rather define success in a different way. Personally, I often find myself relying on numbers and other quantitative, concrete pieces of evidence to determine my level of success. I have been trying to shift away from this. I know I’m going to do the best job I can do, I don’t need a number to tell me that.
I’m not sure that there is one way to measure whether or not I succeed at this or if there is even an end point. My guess is that it’s just a constant ebb and flow.
Have you/do you struggle with perfectionism? How have you overcome it, or do you have specific strategies to share?

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This reminds me of middle school, where I would stay up until 4am perfecting the color shades/font size for my powerpoint presentation. Ahh the good times when those were my only worries regarding schoolwork, ha!

Kelsey Odorczyk

Love this too much. I used to have, what my mother refers to as "math meltdowns," where I would just panic and bawl at my math homework. I was even too scared to ask for help. Talk about counterproductive. Or I'd freak out when I knew I had a lot of work to do and just cry that I wouldn't be able to get it all done correctly and on time. What a nutcase. I'm still a little bit the same and a lot a bit different. But I always think its better than being unmotivated. Right?

Shelby Rothenberger

Like you, I'm always looking for that number to tell me I did a good job. Its hard to get past that because of the grades in school. You grow up learning 90-100 is an A and so on. We've been trained to achieve that high number.


Carly, I swear we are twins on some level. I went to a small prep school and was always on top in my classes. I was the president of multiple extracurriculars and figure skated 15 hours a week. I got to college and was hit immediately with the drive and passion American University students are known for. But the passion and drive was from others. I was so worried about keeping a solid GPA, going to class, not going out and possibly getting in trouble (and having serious anxiety from a new social situation), etc. that I didn't realize why everyone else was happy and I was an anxious mess. It wasn't until I discovered the power of loving what you do and choosing something because you want it instead of because you think it will make you look better that I relaxed a bit. Don't get me wrong, I still love an A and feed off of compliments and praise, however I shrug off B's more easily, am pleased with my GPA (which is NOT a 4.0, trust me!) and live my life for ME. It's extremely hard to push the perfectionism out the window. Whenever something gives me anxiety, I realize this is because I am afraid, because it's new. And I jump – I go for it! if you continue to avoid something, it will swell into a full-out fear or phobia. Embrace your weakness and appreciate how it makes you stronger!


This sounds exactly like me! I went to a top high school, also attended AU, and spent my undergrad overachieving per usual. Living in DC also fueled the perfectionist tendencies in me. It wasn't until joining Peace Corps that I really had to reevaluate what success means. In development, work is often times very slow, change can take years, and projects sometimes fail because of things you have no control over. So it is incredibly frustrating at times to work on projects, to invest your time, and then nothing work. I've had to really look at how you define success and what being a successful volunteer looks like to me. Sometimes that doesn't mean I'm doing fifty million projects, sometimes it's when my host sister coming to me for advice on a problem. I still struggle with it sometimes, and would be lying if I said I don't get a high off of a million deadlines and meetings, but overall it's been nice to figure out a different balance for awhile.

Lynn W

I love this post so much. I'm also a perfectionist in basically every aspect of life (college, now work, hobbies, relationships, etc.) so I definitely understand where you're coming from. I have to remind myself on a regular basis that I'm doing all these things for me, and if it's good enough for me… that's just as good as "perfect".

Deonnah Davis

I love this post! I love all of your post! I'm just like you in the sense that I look for quantity at the end of a project or assignment! I never step back and say hey, I finished this or I learned this so that can count as success! I'm so hard on myself that I can win something and be the top dog at something but still feel like I could done better! Just have to be not as hard on my self!! Good luck with everything!!


Yes, I agree. East Coast (Washington, DC and New York City, etc) cities tend to breed a certain type of perfectionism. I think it's because you're constantly surrounded by people who seem to want the exact same things you want. It's hard to separate your value from those other measures, but so critical that you're able to… Or just to remember that the stories about people we often tell are the ones that defy the nature of perfect, those "crazy" exceptions that seem almost magical, as if their imperfection has been sprinkled with fairy dust.

I am way more interested in the exceptions than the perfections…So when something happens to me that's less than ideal, I immediately start adding my own spin, or fairy dust, for how this will work out better for me in the end.


oh wow. I used to be and still kind of am a HUGE perfectionist. Little tasks would take me hours that I could've done in minutes. Not only small tasks but my daily schedule also had to be down to the last minute! Gladly, I am not THAT kind of perfectionist! Yes, I do attempt to get things perfect but don't worry about it if it's not. If I have the time to fix it/work on it then I will do it, otherwise what's done is done. Certain events in my life that turned my whole life around really made me realize that I CAN'T control everything and expect it to be perfect. However, God is in control and He is perfect!

Katy Z

I think a lot of people with any sort of drive struggle with perfectionist tendencies at some point in their lives. On that note, be careful! When thoughts like 'not good enough' or 'I can just work 1 more hour on this, no big deal' start twirling in your head, it can become a debilitating habit! Work-life balance is even more important than having something done perfectly


Oh yes I've been there. I have to place that quote [Done is better than perfect] on all my walls!!! Tho I'm not a perfectionists in ALL areas, the ones where I am at… omg.
Recently I read something about what success means, it was something like this: "Success is to do what you love and love how you do it".


I definitely struggle with being "perfect", not only in my work but also in my general day-to-day life. I always want the perfect outfit, the perfect hair, to act like a perfect lady 24/7…my pursuit of total perfection never stops.

I often feel like I'm expected to make all A's in order to make my parents proud and feel like my expensive education is worth it, but in reality, all of the pressure I feel is from *myself*. Yes, my parents would prefer for me to get A's in everything, but they also want me to be well-rounded, happy and to do everything to the best of my ability, even if it means not getting all A's.

I've discovered that my idea of success and perfection has completely changed over my college career. Now, instead of wanting that 4.0, I want to be happy, relaxed and not completely stressed out, and with a job that I enjoy and feel challenged by.

That's a lot, but I completely empathize with you!

The Modern Prepster

I love this post to be honest! I am a procrastinator and a perfectionist which DO NOT mesh well. Late nights perfecting geometry proofs is the norm. I agree with Daniela on the definition of success, but I havent seemed to have reached it yet. Xxx


Thankyou so much for this post, it couldn't have come at a better time. I'm in my second to last year at high school (in New Zealand) and I guess I'm a 'fake' perfectionist. I want perfection so badly but I know I don't put in the effort to sustain that. For me, its always always been about the grade. Finding out exactly what I need to get the highest grade, skipping anything and everything that I know will not appear in my test but is counted as 'extra'. And after the test/exam, I mentally purge everything I studied for. On another note, right now there is quite alot of anticipation over who will win the Dux of our school. (Dux is the very highest academic award in our school, awarded to a senior, and most often is offered several full university scholarships). And its pressurising. My classmates and I all want to be the Dux. All of us. We are constantly asking the possible Dux candidates for specific grades, what extra curricular activities they have been doing, what their gpa is etc etc. And from reading this post, I think I need to take a huge step back. I think I've spent way too much time agonising over a near-perfect grade, calculating my GPA and joining groups that I have no interest in whatsoever. I just want to be me. Sounds kinda cheesy but I think I've been lying to myself about my own capabilities and what I truly have an interest in. Getting top of class is an amazing achievement. But that isn't valuable if I didn't learn the material for the sake of learning.

Julia D.

I could write an essay on how much I can relate to this post, but I feel like these two words are more powerful: I understand. I think recognizing it as detrimental, when it is detrimental (in some areas I think it is a wonderful skill) and bringing yourself back has been the most important thing for me. I, like Devon, went to an extremely difficult prep school. I had more mental breakdowns in one term than I have had in two years of university because I learned how to handle my perfectionism and modify it to be productive. I use the motto: "wherever you go, go with your whole heart" when working. If I'm doing something, I'm IN it and committed fully. I work hard and do my best to make it perfect, but if it doesn't happen I recognize that I need to sulk for a minute and then move on so other areas I can do well in don't suffer. I don't know if that helps, but it has been my approach.