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What do you say to the student with a 96% average who thinks she’s a failure because she doesn’t look perfect? Or the marketing manager agonizing over a presentation that has to be perfect before he meets with the client. Or the woman who knows (because her mother told her) she’ll never get married because she’s 36 and hasn’t met the perfect mate?

Perfectionism is the ultimate form of taking yourself too seriously. It can stop you in your tracks, waste everybody’s time and stress you out just thinking about it. We impose perfection on ourselves, our partners, children, lovers, sport teams, politicians and strangers: we even impose it on babies. We blame it’s absence on lack of education, lack of money, lack of support, lack of sleep, fear of failure, rejection and ridicule.

Experts divide perfectionists into three categories: Self-oriented perfectionists who need to be perfect in their own eyes and live up to their own high standards. Often, these standards are accompanied by high levels of goal setting and motivation (Gordon Ramsay, Hilary Clinton, Steve Jobs, Martha Stewart). The downside of Self-oriented perfectionism is depression and stress because, instead of being pleased when they achieve a difficult goal, they just move on to another one.

Socially-oriented perfectionists believe others have unrealistically high expectations of them. This makes them prone to procrastination, hostility, depression, and anxiety.

Other-oriented perfectionists demand perfection from other people, their partner, kids, employees and people in general. It’s no surprise that they can end up with serious relationship problems from intimacy to anger to revolution.

Millions of people are stuck, troubled and fed up with trying to be perfect on a daily basis. Obviously I’m not talking about our airline pilots, surgeons, engineers and the like. We want those professions to continue striving for precision. I’m referring to those who falsely believe that by being perfect they will connect with those around them, be accepted and feel like they belong.

Take the Unperfect test. Ask yourself three questions:  1. What, specifically, do I want – in the positive? (outcome)  2. How specifically will I know when I’ve got it?” (Close your eyes and imagine what you will see, hear and feel at a precise moment in time in the future.) 3. Is the extra five percent worth the time and effort?  If you answer “yes” you may have lost sight of what you want – or got it wrong in the first place.

That’s it. A bit long-winded this time but hey: I’m not perfect.

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