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Letting Go of Perfectionism

By: Donna Jurney

“The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.”— Anna Quindlen

I have spent most of my life struggling with perfectionism and buying into the belief that if things looked good on the outside, then I must be ok- maybe even more than “just” ok. My measurement of self-worth was attached to external outcomes, such as productivity, (checking off everything on my to-do list), achievement, recognition, and many more examples of “doing.” This pattern of striving gave me the illusion of being in control, and a momentary boost of self-esteem that I longed for, but it usually left me feeling exhausted. What I’ve come to realize for me, was that this “externally motivated” way of life was less about moving towards these external outcomes and more about trying to avoid things like judgment, criticism, fear, shame, and being seen.

I sometimes still struggle with taming the inner critic and the voices inside my head that try to dictate what I need to do, be, or accomplish in order to feel good enough. But today, I consider myself more of a recovering perfectionist. When everything on my to-do list isn’t checked off or things don’t go as planned or as I had hoped, my self-worth doesn’t take a nosedive.

My thinking on this topic has changed a lot over the past couple of years, largely due to the work of Dr. Brene Brown. Dr. Brown says, “Perfectionism is not the same as healthy striving. Healthy striving is internally motivated; setting goals that you want to achieve and doing/being your best.” She says, “Perfectionism is about one question… what will people think?” Dr. Brown describes perfectionism as “a defense mechanism or a piece of armor (20 ton shield) used to manage perception. It’s a hustle that we do to earn approval and acceptance. We carry it around thinking it will keep us safe when the truth is that it keeps us from being seen.”

Dr. Brown explained in her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, that “understanding the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism is critical to laying down the shield and picking up your life.” For me, overcoming perfectionism is a process and belief that where I stand in my relationship with perfectionism is on a continuum. Some days are better than others and usually this is a direct result of how I’m feeling about myself on any given day.

There are several practices that I find helpful in managing perfectionism. These include:

  • Surrender- letting go of control and attachment to the outcome. Giving up my need for certainty and control is particularly difficult for me, but it helps to “turn this over” every day. Learning to go with the flow is my work in progress!
  • Practicing self-compassion by incorporating daily self-care and monitoring my self- talk. Dr. Kristin Neff is a researcher and professor at the University of Texas at Austin and studies self-compassion. Visit her website at and complete her self-rating scale on self-compassion.
  • Practicing authenticity. Dr. Brown describes in her book how authenticity is not something that you have or don’t have. She says that being real in place of being who you want me to be is a choice that you make every day and is often connected to how you’re feeling about yourself. Being real also takes courage to be vulnerable by allowing others to really see you!
  • Practicing mindfulness. This helps me to be present in whatever it is that I’m doing and stops my brain from jumping ahead to the next task!
  • Humor. You have to laugh. I think most of us want to take off our game face. Surround yourself with people who lift you; and yes, who definitely make you laugh!
  • Lastly, when I’m having a moment of struggle with the need to be perfect, I often remember a line from Leonard Cohen’s song, Anthem. “There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

Donna Jurney is the founder of Jurney To Wellness Life Coaching. She trained as a Life Coach at the Institute for Life Coach Training, where she completed a Wellness Program of study. She is a Board Certified Coach and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, certified by the State of Maryland. Donna has taken her coaching to a deeper level by becoming a Certified Daring Way Facilitator, which is based on the research of Dr. Brene Brown. She enjoys working with women in transition, women in recovery, and individuals seeking a higher level of wellness and wellbeing. To learn more about Donna, visit her website, follow her on Facebook or reach out to her at