Ask someone to walk to the moon and you’ll hear, “Not realistic,” as a response. They wouldn’t have a problem giving that answer. Ask some people to be perfect and you can almost hear the inner and outer dialogue start — “You have no idea how hard I try to be just that.” This person might even begin a litany of why it’s such a challenge, the times it nearly happened—and this might run on like a stream of film credits.

What was the appropriate response to the second request? Not realistic.
Perfection, in the way it is usually understood and accepted, is not possible, but excellence is.

Perfection in Tick-Tock
Author Stuart Wilde gave us the term “Tick-Tock.” Tick-Tock is what we call that space in time where we believe the outer world is more real than the inner one. It’s where either segments of society or individuals tell us our self-worth is about what we have—titles, degrees, assets—rather than about who we are, how we express ourselves in our lives and in the world. Tick-Tock loves perfectionists because it knows it can get people to buy into struggle rather than flow. When people struggle, they don’t embrace or even remember they have an inner power. They are too focused on the struggle. Too busy doing rather than being.

When people flow, the inner power comes from letting go of judgment, letting go of control, embracing process for what it is—perfection and imperfection as two parts of a whole. Tick-Tock asks us to focus on being consumers, not contributors. A perfectionist will not strive to be one unless she or he buys what Tick-Tock sells.

One aspect that becomes quite clear when you interact with a perfectionist is the imperfection of this way of being. You observe a person “wound up quite tight,” and you witness what happens when everything is not “perfect” according to their requirements. It doesn’t take much to set them off in panic or anger; and, there is a tendency to micro-manage everyone in their circle of influence. When they cannot control every moment and result so that events manifest the way they have imagined would be expected of them, their world is shaken. Not only do they feel enraged, but frequently express it, damaging others’ respect for them. These people seem never to look within. To a perfectionist, a problem is a catastrophe, not an opportunity for growth and expression of potential. For them, everything that goes amiss is external to themselves. This is pure Tick-Tock mentality.

This particular form of perfectionism makes good people bad managers in the workplace—or the home—and of their lives. Typically, there is no allowance for normal human behavior or growth processes to occur. Not for them, not for others. Many involved with these individuals become either withdrawn, rebellious, or they move on. It’s a sad sight; and it robs everyone of the joy, harmony, and creative environment that could be the reality.

There also seems to be a lack of appreciation for spontaneity. Everything must be planned down to the smallest detail. One perfectionist I know created an agenda for his 10-year old granddaughter’s visit, starting from the moment she got off the train until she reboarded to return home. It was remarkable to see items listed such as “12:45 – arrive at the zoo; 12:50-12:55 – Monkeys; 1:00-1:05 – Llamas; 1:10-1:15 – Ice Cream Cone.” It could have been humorous were it not so sad. Tick-Tock. Tick-Tock. No time for spontaneity.

This type of behavior also leaves little room for “this or better” moments to be appreciated when they happen. If something isn’t done in the way they believe it should be or by when they believe it should be, even if something better happens because of it, they either don’t see it or refuse to acknowledge it.

Perfectionists believe that their value as people is judged by virtue of what they do and do perfectly. If they happen to read a self-improvement book, they rarely relate the information to themselves. They only see “flaws” they perceive in others. When others—or they—don’t perform to their standards, even if unrealistic, they seldom, if ever, pause to ask what is working right.

Their struggle is a difficult one because they spend a great deal of time thinking about what needs to be done, who needs to do it, how it needs to happen. Were it not for the affectation of perfectionism influencing the process and outcome, these things are strengths. Channeled correctly, these strengths could create tremendous, positive change and environments.

Perfection in the New Age

One belief that emerged from the spiritual movement that gained momentum in the 1960s was that because someone taps into spiritual or metaphysical principles, observes the results in their lives when they apply them, they have to be—you guessed it—perfect. As wonderful as it is to embrace conscious awareness, there are people who still miss the fact that living, and the dynamics of living, is about processing information and making choices about how to move forward with a greater level of awareness in thought, word, and action.

This form of perfectionism leads people to believe that if they have physical pain, they shouldn’t do something about it if it is necessary. They tend to believe that if they are ill, they’ve failed or done something worthy of punishment, not that it is an opportunity to restore balance in some area in their life. They believe that if they assist others with spiritual matters or natural therapies, it is wrong to receive compensation—or adequate compensation—for this exchange of energy. They also tend to believe that no matter what happens, even something traumatic, their emotions are always to be in perfect balance—like a pond surface that never has a ripple. Mingle with these individuals and you watch them struggle to keep their emotions in check at all times rather than live in harmony with them. Rather than joyful and engaged, they seem remote, depressed, or repressed.

There are more self-imposed beliefs that emerged, but the primary result is that these people, though they have more information and some excellent tools, still do not live authentic lives—even though the point of walking this inner path is to do just that.

An additional fear that others will consider them frauds comes into play. After all, how can someone talk about empowerment or connection to source and still have problems in their life? What will others think? And not only does this cause fear about others’ opinions, but self-doubt comes in. The gremlin speaks: “You are only fooling yourself. You don’t have what it takes. You’re weak, undisciplined.” You can imagine the negative self-talk.

Both types mentioned above, feel not that they are superior to others, but that they should be—even though it sometimes manifests as superiority when they interact with others. Awareness of their insecurities is under the surface and noticed by others. When their unrealistic self-image falls short of the mark, they feel compelled to blame others because they know how much thought and effort they put into getting everything just right. One favorite mantra of perfectionists is, “If everyone would just do what they are supposed to, it would all be the way it is supposed to be”— as though life is a blueprint to be strictly followed or that we all share the same blueprint.

Process or Perfection?

We learn in coaching that you start where you are and do something to move forward. How many of us have witnessed over the course of our lives, scenarios where someone indicated or, even, insisted on perfection from themselves and others? Perhaps we’ve even done this to some extent ourselves. What would a person’s experience, and the world as a whole, look like if we understood that life—as are we—is a process?

No one can move forward if they strive to be perfect. Take a moment and feel where that energy is. It’s close. It’s all about the person.. Nothing, or very little, gets out—or in. You can feel the focus placed on the self being perfect as it relates to every person and event that intersects the life. This constricts the energy. There is no expansion. Process allows for expansion and contraction—like breathing. No one would ever say that breathing in is good and breathing out is bad. Both are necessary for life.

People who impose perfectionism on their lives are continuing something taught to them. Whatever was said or done to them to ingrain this concept into their way of being is perpetuated unless they come to terms with how this impacts their lives and relationships. Their grip is so tight around this concept, it seems that if you were able to pry it from their hand, the hand would remain clenched though nothing was in it. Frozen muscle. Frozen person. Frozen life.

What is realistic? Every moment in life is a process. Empowerment comes from embracing the perfection inherent in what is seemingly imperfect. Who cannot recall having an experience that appeared, at first, to be negative only to discover a purpose in it or for it at some later time? Why did this realization happen? Because the person processed it at an inner level, no matter how long it took for that to happen. When we actively, consciously engage in process, we waste nothing.
Process allows us to discover all we can about ourselves in relation to everyone and every situation that enters our lives. It is our opportunity to decide how to move forward, how to grow. Perfectionism stops us where we stand, even if we appear to move forward in our outer lives. It’s an illusion. It’s a trap—because the life experience is not authentic and flowing, but forced.

The Universe is not either/or, but both/and. Like a coin has two sides but is one object, people have positive and negative aspects to the self. A true act of power is to embrace this as a reality and make choices from a conscious perspective rather than pure reaction. Perfectionism tells us we cannot be both/and, but must be either/or. The inner conflict becomes a struggle

The Perfection of Imperfect Reflections

People are reflections of ourselves. This is a challenging concept to those who are not perfectionists. A perfectionist might argue that this is completely false.

Years back, a friend of mine picked me up for choir practice. He was remote, withdrawn. I asked him what was going on. He took a deep breath and told me about an exercise he’d recently done at a workshop. He didn’t give a lot of detail, but enough for me to figure out what was disturbing to him. I said, “You’ve held animosity and judgment towards your ex-wife for a long time. This exercise caused you to see yourself in her behaviors and it shocks you to realize the things you’ve condemned her for exist in you.” Right on the money. It’s called self-righteousness—until it is recognized within and becomes self-realization.

What happens when we consider others as mirrors? We have to ask a very important question: What about this person that bothers me exists, on some level, within me? If we allow this question to be part of our process, we see the answer very clearly. It can be stunning to realize this as an inner truth. If moving forward is a goal, this is one quick way to get there.

Something else to note about this process: If what someone says or does gets to you, it really is because on some level, it exists within you. If you are not bothered, you’ve gone beyond it. In fact, you will probably empathize with them because you remember what it took for you to work your way out of it. This is a great way to see how far you’ve traveled on the path of self-realization.

Self-Righteousness and Self-Realization

Self-righteousness walks hand-in-hand with perfectionism. Perhaps during the course of life, as the concept of perfectionism is ingrained into a person, they feel they have little control over themselves. They have to behave a certain way or be condemned, punished, or rejected. They have to follow a certain path, even if unnatural to them, or suffer consequences. Long after they move away from whomever imposed this on them, they continue this process because it is so familiar. As adults, they carry this beyond their own life experiences into the lives of others. And they feel justified in doing so.

A person afflicted by self-righteousness has no room for process or growth. If they allow that they may be mistaken about something, they believe others will see them as less. Less valuable. Less worthy. Less than others. If you’ve ever encountered a true perfectionist and attempted to interact with them in these matters, you probably witnessed a person who perceived this as an attempt to unravel their world—not an attempt to restore balance. Their defense mode kicks in. Perhaps they become loud or aggressive. Perhaps they shut down and become unresponsive. In doing so, they cut off any ability to have genuine communication with others, especially those close to them, much less approach self-realization. Self-righteousness, as it is with perfectionism, has little or no forward motion.

Self-realization invites us to notice who we are at our core, notice our beliefs, perceptions, and assumptions. It encourages us to analyze these things and ask questions such as, “Do I have enough information about this? What am I doing right? What is my ideal vision of this and how can I work towards that?” Self-realization also helps us accept our imperfections for what they are—perceptions of self. Not absolutes. We can change anything we choose to.

Perfection and Purpose

When we think of a person who dedicated her life to helping others, it’s easy to think of Mother Theresa. Years back, I determined that I will never be like Mother Theresa—nor do I want to be. That is not my path. Though the world may consider her the ultimate in giving of one’s self, the truth is that is not how my inner gift I came here to share manifests within me.

It is liberating to acknowledge and validate my gift and nature for what it is. Mother Theresa probably never thought of herself as perfect; but I find it easy to believe she thought of herself as purposeful. I’d rather be on purpose than exist in the illusion of perfectionism.

What’s in Your Space?

If perfection is a goal, can this goal exist in the same space as purpose? How could they co-exist in the same space? This can happen only if perfection is seen in imperfection and valued as such.

If you make self-empowerment one of your goals in life, eventually, you will have to reframe your definition of perfection. You can choose to see everything as perfect, even when ego tells you it isn’t. That’s just the need to judge coming through. It’s very Tick-Tock. If you fill your inner space with purpose, perfection and imperfection are no longer real issues. Your focus shifts to what something or someone can become and doesn’t box people or events into categories or label them as unchangeable.

At any moment, all of us can choose which bits and bobs to place into our inner and outer space. Imagine an inner space cleared of judgment, cleared of assumptions, cleared of a need to blame. There are other things we could imagine that space cleared of, as well. What’s left? Potential. Possibility. Room for process and growth. It becomes a space uncluttered of things that don’t serve us or help us be who we really are. It becomes a kitchen for the mind. Add some heart, commitment, and focus into the mix and the outer space seems to become magical.

It may feel magical, but what it is, is empowerment. Self empowerment. No matter what form our gift to the world may take, if underneath the gift lies the ability to assist ourselves and others to self-empower, then we are on purpose. Now, that’s perfect.

Author's Bio: 

Joyce Shafer is a Next-Level and Life Empowerment Coach, creator of On Purpose Living and the Take This Life and Live It! workshop and workbook, and author of “I Don’t Want to be Your Guru, But I Have Something to Say” (read reviews at Call or email today to schedule a FREE consultation to see if coaching is for you (15-20 minutes by phone) or to purchase the workbook — 718.833.2751 —