Posted by: waikatogifted | June 12, 2011

Perfectionism and the Art of Discernment

Gifted Awareness Week Blog Tour icon.Today, Dr Lynley McMillan concludes her series of five blog posts on workaholics and perfectionists by explaining how the discerning use of perfectionism at appropriate times can be useful, and even necessary.

We saw yesterday that pursuing perfectionism in relationships just leads to frustration, heartache, and either obsessive attempts to achieve precision, or a resigned withdrawal from even trying. The middle ground has a lot going for it.

When to aim for perfection
In concrete tasks, like some disciplines within maths, some aspects of physics, some parts of chemistry.

In some physical tasks, like building a straight wall, plumbing a straight line.

In some disciplines; engineering, (especially when you are calculating load bearing on buildings), medicine (when calculating how much anaesthetic a person needs) and accounting (when you are doing my tax return…)

When not to aim for perfection
In relationships (accept that people get it wrong, including you – that does not mean you are going to divorce, or fall apart. Buddhist call this radical acceptance – some things just wobble at times – it is not the end of the world to make a mistake – just accept yourself, and them, with compassion and move on. Did you hear that bit? Move on!)

In the arts (one person’s idea of perfection is far from another’s. Think about abstract modernist art – some rave about it, others think it is garbage).

In abstract concepts like philosophy, theology, religion, love (just think how many wars around the world have been started because of that – pursuing perfection in the abstract realm is akin to peeling an orange with a razor blade – it’s going to get messy and somebody is going to hurt).

So what is the secret?
Firstly, think about how you can gain from adopting a perfectionist stance before using it. Secondly, treat perfectionism like a gear in your car. Say, first gear. It makes sense to use first when you are leaving an intersection or negotiating a tricky bend – but you don’t want your poor engine screaming at 100km hour in first gear. Sometimes it’s smarter to use a different gear, a different strategy. Finally, think about perfectionism as an option, and sometimes a healthy one. Be smart enough however, to only use it on concrete tasks. In contrast, when things are abstract or people related – chill out and use some radical acceptance – at times like that, doing our best is good enough.

Am now fighting an urge to pop down the the shops for an orange and a razor blade … strangely motivated by alleged impossibilities and novel challenges. Anyone blogging on that?

Like all guest bloggers on the WAGC blog, Dr Lynley McMillan has a connection with the Waikato. Lynley has lived, worked and studied here, and was valedictorian at the University of Waikato.

The knob of a gear lever.

Perfectionism, like first gear, is only one of the choices available to you.

This photo, by Flickr member nataliej, has attribution and non-commercial licenses.

Gifted Awareness Week Blog Tour Link



  1. Thank you for your relevant post

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