10 reasons why perfectionism is not a good idea

Dennis Sparks

Trying to be perfect is a heavy burden for principals and teacher leaders and a source of stress for others in the school community with whom they interact.

Here’s my list of reasons for why perfection is not a worthy goal:

1. It is impossible to be perfect;

2. Trying to be perfect is incredibly stressful;

3. Trying to be perfect  can cause us to expect perfection in others, which is incredibly stressful for them;

4. Striving for perfection can lead to paralysis;

5. Because of that paralysis, the perfect can become the enemy of the good, which means that good things may not get done;

6. Lowering one’s standards to, say, 90% can be a way of breaking through the paralysis to actions that benefit students; and

7. Many things that are good for students don’t have to be perfect to add value to their school experience.

Please add to the list: Assuming that 10 was a desirable number of reasons, I wrote the title of this post before I made the list. Then I discovered that I could come up with just seven reasons. Given that it’s okay and even desirable to be less than perfect, I’m hoping that obliging readers will offer a few more items for the list.

12 Responses to “10 reasons why perfectionism is not a good idea”

  1. 1 Debra Sherrow February 19, 2013 at 6:19 am

    Thanks for post on perfectionism. I really needed the reminder. I feel the burden at times. And I do know it is not good for myself or anyone else. Sending it to my school email and posting by my desk ….. Debra

    • 2 Dennis Sparks February 19, 2013 at 7:59 am

      Perfectionism can certainly be a burden for ourselves and those close to us. Unlearning the habit, though, can be challenging. I hope that the reminder by your desk helps you consider when it might be a good idea to lower your standards.

  2. 3 audreystephen February 19, 2013 at 6:21 am

    8) Being perfect is subjective and thus intangible. You would be chasing something that doesn’t exist.

  3. 5 Patricia T. De Bello February 19, 2013 at 8:10 am

    Perfectionism or striving for it, seems to leave little or no room for spontaneity. Spontaneity gives us, as teachers, principals and humans, times of exploration, truth- telling, joy, laughter and “teachable moments” from these pieces of very human nature! Patricia T. De Bello

  4. 6 Tagrid Sihly February 19, 2013 at 9:04 am

    9) Striving for greatness is warranted. But even when you reach the peak of greatness, you never achieve perfection since you’re always continuing to improve.

  5. 8 G. Michael Abbott February 19, 2013 at 9:10 am

    This may be number 4, that perfection leads to paralysis: Not achieving perfection can cause people to give up. I’m thinking of people who quit diet and exercise when the scale doesn’t go down fast enough, or they eat a whole pie and decide they are incapable of dieting. What is perfection? I want perfectly behaved students. What does that really mean? Obedient? inquisitive? Creative? Where does perfect begin and end? And who decides?


  6. 9 Jamie February 19, 2013 at 1:08 pm

    I love that you were able to “let go” of your intended list of 10. That’s such a great example of how we can manage our perfectionistic tendencies (of which I am regularly challenged). Since this topic resonates with me, I’d like to share a post I’ve written on this topic: http://sowhatwouldyousay.wordpress.com/2012/09/20/the-perfectionism-paradox/

  7. 11 tpettine February 20, 2013 at 7:10 am

    Leaving it one short of ten perfectly complements the spirit of the post. Outstanding message to those administrators who pull work off bulletin boards because of a misspelled word or capitalization error.

  8. 12 TommyThai February 21, 2013 at 8:38 pm

    I agreed that “It is impossible to be perfect.” but “Do One’s Best” is possible.

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