Personal, Wellbeing

Confessions of a recovering perfectionist – by Paul Jordan

This article almost wasn’t written because I’m a perfectionist. Well, a recovering perfectionist actually.

Most of my adult life I’ve been nurturing, embracing and wielding perfectionism. Courting it under the misapprehension that it was a positive character trait. Who wouldn’t want to be perfect, right?

Come on admit it. You’ve probably dabbled in a little perfectionism yourself. We’ve all done it – spent far too long polishing something that probably didn’t need it.

Exacting standards

I work in advertising. And in the past, whenever I was called “Perfectionist Paul” I used to smile along.

“Good” I thought, “They can see how much I care, how exacting my standards are, how I’m willing to stay up all night to craft the living s**t out of this tiny small-space ad that barely anyone will ever see.”

I thought being called a perfectionist was a compliment. Vainly proud of a badge I didn’t really understand.

During these perfectionist episodes, a former boss would regularly remind me of the Persian carpet weavers. Master craftsmen of the world’s finest rugs, who would deliberately weave a single imperfection into every carpet. They did this because they believed that only Allah is perfect. So surely, even the most egotistical adman couldn’t compare himself with God, could he?


It’s not always obvious to see what’s wrong with perfectionism though.

I grew up adoring my perfectionist Dad. Granted he would frustrate the hell out of Mum as every small job around the house was done with the painstaking precision of a work of art. Even clearing out the roof gutters was executed to perfection.

As a kid I would think, “Give him a break – he’s taking care in what he’s doing and it’s a magnificent job”. What I realise as a grown up is the gutters don’t need to be magnificent – they just need to be clear. And while he took a week doing that job, there were five others that just weren’t getting done.


Perfectionism is creatively corrosive too. Not only does it eat away at our ability to get stuff started. It is even worse when it comes to getting stuff finished.

Too often we can default to a kind of autopilot of perfectionism.  Maniacally perfecting everything we work on, whether it warrants it or not. For fear that someone might point a bony finger at this one particular project and proclaim it anything less than brilliant. Well, I’m sorry but, they can’t all be brilliant.


So, let’s be clear. Perfectionism is not a positive. It’s not the same thing as striving for excellence. Perfectionism is a negative. It’s defensive and fuelled by fear of criticism, ‘If I make myself and everything I do perfect, then they can’t criticise me’.

In her book Daring Greatly Brene Brown describes perfectionism as this heavy armour that we lug around everywhere thinking it will protect us. When in fact, it just weighs us down and holds us back. She goes on

“…research shows that perfectionism hampers achievement. Perfectionism is correlated with depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis or missed opportunities.”

As a creative person, it’s the idea of these “missed opportunities” that really gets to me. That’s a huge price to pay for perfectionism.

The price

Maybe Arthur Jordan’s gutters can serve as a useful reminder to us here. While we are obsessively trying to perfect the unperfectable – there are probably another five projects we just don’t get started on. One of which could have the potential to be truly world changing.  

So, let’s embrace my very human imperfections and pick our battles wisely. In doing so, we can save our energy for those projects that really deserve giving everything we got.

Paul Jordan works as a Creative Director in advertising and has 25 years experience of creating campaigns for some of the world’s biggest brands.

1 thought on “Confessions of a recovering perfectionist – by Paul Jordan”

  1. Absolutely Paul, thanks for posting. I’ve been recovering from perfectionism for a few years now and found “The Perfectionism book” by Will van der Hart and Rob Waller really helpful to work through with my mentor. I find it hardest when life gets more stressful and my desire to control and keep things perfect rears up more strongly, which ironically (and often the way with these kinds of conditions) is the least helpful time to be perfectionist!


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