Perfectionism Vs. Striving Towards Excellence


Author: Dr. Julie. Sorenson, DMFT, MA, LPC

Do You Have High Expectations?

In an instant gratification world, we want everything to look or sound the way we play it in our minds. Our minds may paint us a picture-perfect setting. However, nothing or no one is perfect. We may have fond memories of what we would consider perfect encounters, conversations, or evenings. Although that is our perception, the more profound question is whether our partners or friends look at that event in the same light. 


We may be holding too high of expectations for those that we love. In our minds, if we can do certain things, everyone can. Check yourself. Some people function differently and work off the same energy level. What may be doable for one may seem impossible for the other person. If you feel yourself trying to be perfect, try striving for excellence instead. It is okay to make mistakes. 

What is perfectionism?

Many people believe they need to be perfect, and that is not the case. There is no such thing as perfect. Here are some characteristics of someone that struggles with perfectionism.

perfect measure
  • The belief that everything must be perfect all the time.
  • Spends an excessive amount of time on trivial problems.
  • Sets unrealistic and impossible standards for success and feels very upset when those standards aren’t met.
  • Motivated by the fear of failure, criticism, or rejection.
  • Sees self as either perfect or a failure.
  • Has a difficult time making decisions, then second guessing self or regretting the decision.
  • Has a difficult time with commitment in relationships or choosing a career.
  • Avoids risks or new experiences because of fear of failure.
  • Self-esteem is dependent on meeting Impossible Standards.

However, if you change your mindset and strive for excellence, you won’t have so much stress trying to be perfect. Below are some characteristic traits of someone that strives for excellence.

  • Understands that some situations call for perfectionism (e.g., performing surgery) and other situations do not (such as choosing an outfit).
  • Focuses time on important problems.
  • Sets challenging but achievable standards and feels content when those standards are met.
  • Motivative for the potential for success and happiness
  • Looks at self from a balanced perspective, both their strengths and weaknesses.

Communication is Imperative in Every Relationship

           Perfectionism can create difficulties within your relationship, which makes it extremely important to use communication strategies. Letting your partner know if you need to be perfect is important. Perfectionism can contribute to problems such as: 

  • Procrastination
  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Problems within your relationships 


Being a perfectionist in one area of your life is possible but not in others. Perfectionism is a personality trait caused by environmental and biological factors (e.g., how you were raised and genetics). Despite being a personality trait, perfectionism can be changed by changing your mindset. In every relationship, communication is the key. At the beginning of a relationship, stars around every corner shine brightly on the person we are growing to love. No one is perfect, guards come down, and true colors show. However, in our minds, we may have created a relationship to look so much different than what it is. It is essential to check in with your person. What are your expectations in this relationship? Check in with yourself too. What are the expectations that you can let go and what are some that you won’t compromise? Boundaries in any relationship are important, and communicating your needs, wants, and desires will only enhance your relationship. No person has a crystal ball. To ensure you are getting what you believe you are giving out of the relationship, it is vital to do check-ins and bring honesty to the table. Be prepared during your check-ins to find that while you may be painting that perfect picture of the relationship in your head, your partner could have a very different scene playing in their mind. 

Weekly Check-in Can Help

If your partner has the same expectations that you have should never happen. You know what they say about assuming. Try for a weekly or daily check-in within your relationships. Include your children in the check-ins if you have children. What are your expectations of today, the week, and the upcoming weekend?

 What would you like to accomplish? Do you feel like your expectations are doable, or do you feel that they are too overwhelming? Let everyone have an opportunity to respond during the check-ins for everyone’s voice to be heard. When communicating your wants, needs, desires, and expectations, make sure that you use paraphrasing in your communication to ensure you are all on the same page. You could do a check-in, and still, your picture may represent your ideas. Paraphrasing will allow the other person or people to respond, whether that is what they were saying or if it was just the perception within your mind. Paraphrasing also shows active listening and checking in, allowing everyone to understand the expectations within the relationship or family. It will enable you to lessen the feeling of having to be perfect.

Therapy Can Help

Remember, if you are struggling, it is okay to contact a local therapist. Therapy can help you explore your strengths and develop more well-balanced thinking. It can also help you improve your self-esteem, overall mood and decrease anxiety. There are many local therapists happy to assist you. If you try therapy and aren’t a right fit with your therapist, it is okay to find one that is the best fit for you to help you on your road to success.  

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