Perfectionist driving you crazy? How to find positive perfectionism

Perfectionist: vernier caliper
A perfectionist tool: Vernier caliper used for measuring how close to perfect an object has been made. Photo: ardelfin #89817 via Used with permission.

There is an antidote to obsessive perfectionism. It may take time and creativity to administer. It involves finding perfection in every mistake, but also granting perfection to everything in one’s environment.

A broken cup is perfectly that. In all the universe there is no cup as perfectly that-cup-broken as that cup. Perhaps I misspelled a word, or made an error in my math. Each is perfectly what it is. The attitude one might have in viewing each thing in their environment in this manner would be one of humility.

The “maladaptive perfectionists” might have a touch too much selfishness going on, though you probably should not tell them that.

“My ideas are right. I don’t care what you say. My way or the highway.” That is the sort of thing they might say.

The humble perfectionist would be all right with any productivity. They would have no negative judgment of another person or their products. The fanatical perfectionist might glare and fume and berate. “This is a piece of junk. Do it over again, you clod.” Such is not very nice. I suppose people can be anywhere on a scale of relative perfectionism. And separately, but with influence, they can be anywhere on a scale of selfish-generous, or arrogant-humble.

In Buddhism, the perfections or “paramitas” seem not to be within this physical universe. Paramita generosity, for instance, is a perfect form of generosity with no hint of selfishness within it. It is like a one-sided coin, not tainted with its earthly opposite.

Heroes seem to be icons of relative perfection. Our admiration of all heroes might be an inherent longing for our own perfection, not in this physical realm, but in the non-physical, spiritual realm.

Perfect Confidence—Antidote to the Self-Obsessed Perfectionist

I was very fortunate to experience such perfection first hand. The incident transcended any kind of physical high I’ve ever had, before or since. The perfection was one of confidence, the kind that Peter had when he stepped out of the boat to walk a moment with his teacher on the water. I sincerely hope each of you have such an experience. It was quite humbling and inspiring.

In fact, that kind of perfection came with a complete lack of selfishness. A selfish attitude tends to come with vulnerability. During those few minutes in 1977, I had no ego to bruise—no vulnerability. The thick, snarling traffic on Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles could have done its worst, for all I cared. When more than 2,000 cars and their drivers parted in front of me (more than 2 miles of empty lane in front with choked lanes on either side), I had no mortal desire to get to my destination any faster. I merely created a picture of wide open spaces and smooth sailing all the way to my destination. And then I allowed that picture into the time stream.

Have a perfectionist break a cup, or scribble wildly on a piece of paper. Have them find within the broken shards or scribbles, interesting patterns. Let them know that such patterns would not have existed without their action. These are not the only methods one might employ. There is an infinite variety to try. Some other methods might be a better fit for the personality of your perfectionist.

I agree that perfection does not exist in this physical realm, but then again it does. The kind of perfection sought by the obsessive perfectionist exists only in the paramita (the Zen Buddhist’s “other shore”). The kind of perfection felt by the purely humble exists all around us.

When studying electronic engineering many years ago, I read of something called a “tank circuit” which is basically a capacitor and coil in parallel to tune in to a radio signal. When I realized, the next moment, that I was surrounded by tank circuits—trillions of them!—I felt that perfection. You see, each atom is basically a coil and a capacitor built into one tidy package. Perfect, huh?

What are your own experiences with the obsessive perfectionist? Questions? Comments? Bring them on. They’re all perfect.

This article was published earlier on 2015:0611 on, and originally as “So, you have a perfectionist in the family?” 2009:0321 on

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